By R.L. Bynum
Coach Mack Brown has grown accustomed during his second stint as Carolina’s coach to having an offense that’s much better than his defense.
That hasn’t changed through the Tar Heels’ 5–1 start, particularly considering that the offense has talented, skilled players such as quarterback Drake Maye and receivers Josh Downs and Antoine Green.
“We’ve been very talented on offense,” Brown said Monday at his weekly press conference. “Defensively, we’ve been catching up, and we’ve got a lot of young guys that are playing, and they are getting better, and they are getting more confident. But we’ve got to get so we consistently play great defense to have the program we want. We can outscore people all the time. And, hopefully, after the last two weeks we’re headed in that direction.”
The Tar Heels, who are alone atop the ACC Coastal Division at 2–0, will try to keep the momentum going Saturday night at 8 o’clock when they visit Duke (4–2, 1–1 ACC) in a game that will air on ACC Network.
One of the players who elevated his game in Saturday’s 27–24 win at Miami was defensive back DeAndre Boykins, who is the ACC defensive back of the week. The team’s defensive player of the game had four tackles, a sack and a big late interception. Linebacker Power Echols was all over the field with 12 tackles (including one for a loss) and two assists.
The improvements came with several big plays and forcing three turnovers, but the deficiencies were still evident, considering that Carolina gave up nearly 500 total yards to Miami.
“We think that our rush has been better than our coverage and that we’re close on coverage,” Brown said. “So, get a little bit wider. Hang in there a little bit longer. We need the cover better, so we give our defensive front just a little bit longer to affect the quarterback. The defense did some good things.”
The most significant improvement came against the run, with UNC allowing only 41 rushing yards after holding Virginia Tech to 99 the week earlier.
“We’re so close in pass coverage on a lot of those throws,” said Brown, whose team allowed Canes quarterback Tyler Van Dyke to throw for 496 yards and three touchdowns. “If we can just cover a little bit longer, we’re right on the quarterback with pressure. But you’ve got to cover longer so the quarterback can’t get the ball out of his hands so fast, and their quarterback did a tremendous job. That’s the best he’s played all year.”
The little details make a difference in a close game. Brown noted that Cedric Gray, who had nine tackles, tackled a Miami player inbounds late in the game to keep the clock moving was a smart decision.
Earlier this season, 27 points probably wouldn’t have been enough for UNC to win, but the defense did enough to help the Tar Heels hold on.
“I did think it was great for our team that our team won, and the offense didn’t play as best the second half,” Brown said. “I thought that was great for us. We haven’t won many games just because of our defense. And the offense did some great things and scored 21 points in the first half.
“But coming out with a sack to start the second half, then an interception at the 50 and then the defense goes and gets the ball right back to the offense,” Brown said. “The defense is starting to feel their presence and their importance in winning games. And that’s a real positive for this team.”
Playing well in the second half showed that the defense is making progress. In addition, being more physical after Notre Dame manhandled that unit was a big change. That led the Hurricanes to give up on the running game.
“Early in the game, I felt like the defense established the fact that we were going to be physical in the game, and they knew they were going to have to throw the ball,” Brown said.
Brown said the defense took the beating it absorbed against the Irish as a positive by realizing that they must work harder to change that and stop the run. He said that defensive coordinator Gene Chizik made them accountable for stopping the run but did it while staying positive.
The defense improvements have helped the team’s overall mindset that, since the spring, already has been better than last season’s 6–7 team.
“They are very confident right now, but not complacent,” Brown said. “They’re excited. I said back in the spring that last year’s team was hard. You never knew who was going to show up. This year’s team, so far they’ve practiced well; every day we’ve practiced, they’ve been excited. This is a team that, unlike last year’s, is a team that likes to play. They like each other and they are feeling much more confident about themselves.”
NOTES — Running back British Brooks, who is out for the season with a lower-body injury, will return next season. He was in the same recruiting class with Javonte Williams and Michael Carter, who will be in their third NFL season next season. … Defensive back Don Chapman and nose tackle Ray Vohasek are both out for the Duke game with upper-body injuries. Linebacker RaRa Dillworth and right guard William Barnes will be evaluated this week. … The other players of the game at Miami in addition to Boykins were running back Caleb Hood (offense) and Jake Harkleroad (special teams). … Maye is ACC rookie of the week.
|X-No. 13 North Carolina||6||0||9||1|
|X-No. 9 Clemson||7||0||9||1|
|No. 20 Florida State||5||3||7||3|
X-Clinched division title
North Carolina 36, Wake Forest 34
Duke 24, Virginia Tech 7
Pittsburgh 37, Virginia 7
Miami 35, Georgia Tech 14
Clemson 31, Louisville 16
Boston College 21, N.C. State 20
Florida State 38, Syracuse 3
Louisiana at Florida State, noon, ESPN3
Virginia Tech at Liberty, noon, ESPN+
Duke at Pittsburgh, noon, ACC Network
Boston College at Notre Dame, 2:30, NBC
Miami at Clemson, 3:30, ESPN
N.C. State at Louisville, 3:30, ACC Network
Coastal Carolina at Virginia, 3:30, ESPN3
Georgia Tech at North Carolina, 5:30, ESPN2
Syracuse at Wake Forest, 8 p.m., ACC Network
|27||Saturday||W, 56–24||Home||Florida A&M||1–0|
|3||Saturday||W, 63–61||Boone||Appalachian State||2–0|
|10||Saturday||W, 35–28||Atlanta||Georgia State||3–0|
|24||Saturday||L, 45–32||Home||No. 19 |
|1||Saturday||W, 41–10||Home||Virginia Tech||4–1, 1–0 ACC|
|8||Saturday||W, 27–24||Miami |
|Miami||5–1, 2–0 ACC|
|15||Saturday||W, 38–35||Durham||Duke||6–1, 3–0 ACC|
|29||Saturday||W, 42–24||Home||Pittsburgh||7–1, 4–0 ACC|
|5||Saturday||W, 31–28||Charlottesville||Virginia||8–1, 5–0 ACC|
|12||Saturday||W, 36–34||Winston-Salem||Wake Forest||9–1, 6–0 ACC|
|19||Saturday||L, 21–17||Home||Georgia Tech||9–2, 6–1 ACC|
|25||Friday||L, 30–27, |
|Home||N.C. State||9–3, 6–2 ACC|
|3||Saturday||8 p.m.||Charlotte||No. 10 Clemson||ABC|