Heels Scheming to Contain Golson

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – North Carolina’s defensive success against No. 5 Notre Dame on Saturday will be determined by its ability to limit quarterback Everett Golson’s effectiveness with the ball in his hand.

Golson, the Myrtle Beach, S.C. talent who committed to UNC prior to signing with the Irish in 2011, has inserted himself in the Heisman Trophy conversation after leading Notre Dame to a 5-0 start.

Golson has completed 64 percent of his passes (114-of-178) for 1,383 yards and rushed for 138 more. He’s accounted for 17 touchdowns (13 passing, 4 rushing) against just three turnovers (all interceptions).

“They’re going to go as far as he takes them,” UNC head coach Larry Fedora said this week. “He’s really a good player. He can run and beat you with his legs. On any play, he can turn an ordinary play into a great play. And he’s got a tremendous arm.”

The Tar Heel defense already has some experience against a mobile quarterback in Clemson’s Deshaun Watson. While UNC had no answer in the passing game due in part to secondary breakdowns, Watson was limited to 28 rushing yards on 11 carries and was sacked three times.

Golson has been sacked nine times in five games this season, although his ability to extend plays has been devastating at times for opposing defenses.

“He is almost impossible to catch back in the pocket with normal defensive linemen,” UNC associate head coach for defense Vic Koenning said following Wednesday’s practice. “He gets away from everybody.”

Koenning noted Golson’s arm strength – “he flicks the ball 50-60 yards” – and stressed how head coach Brian Kelly’s offense puts his quarterback in a position to excel with max protection on deep throws Golson’s scrambling ability also plays a role in slowing down the rush.

“There are six gaps and unless you bring six people, you can’t cover the six gaps,” Koenning said. “And if you do that, you’re in zero man coverage back in the back end, which we can’t do. So there are gaps open and we’re going to have to do a great job at the front of just corralling him and not letting him get down the field. But we better cover them first – that’s the first challenge.”

In terms of limiting Golson’s effectiveness, UNC’s first goal is to make him a pocket passer.

“It’s just really about corralling him and not letting him outside of the pocket,” middle linebacker Jeff Schoettmer said. “That’s a big thing. It goes back to gap responsibilities. If a defensive end has contain rush, he can’t put his head inside and then the quarterback slips out. That kills us. So everyone just has to be true to their gaps. Then then once we’re in open space, he might break one, but we’ve got to get him down on the ground.”

UNC’s defense has gifted career days to Watson and East Carolina’s Shane Carden. Avoiding secondary breakdowns and maintaining gap integrity will go a long way in preventing Golson’s name from being added to that list.

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