After a shaky first half against Virginia last Saturday, the UNC defense finally turned things around in the final two quarters. The Tar Heels’ defense held the Cavaliers to just three points after halftime and kept the game close until the offense capitalized late.
On Wednesday, head coach Larry Fedora stressed how important it was that his team be ready to play from the opening whistle.
“There were plenty of good things to build on,” Fedora said. “Now, this whole week has been, let’s start from the beginning of the game, let’s not wait until things happen before we get going. We’ve got to wake up and play at 12:30.”
So far this season, UNC has consistently missed more than 20 tackles per game. Whether defending the pass-heavy spread attack of ECU or the ground-and-pound triple option of Georgia Tech, UNC’s defense has struggled to consistently bring down opposing ball carriers.
“When you fit your gaps and you are where you’re supposed to be and you’ve got a lot of hats getting there, then you’re going to make more tackles,” Fedora said following practice.
Even with that stout second half performance at Virginia, UNC has repeatedly shot itself in the foot by failing to get stops on third down. In 2014, opposing offenses have converted 62 of 125 chances on third down (50 percent), which ranks 122nd nationally and 12th in the ACC.
“I’m going back to getting them in third down and stopping them on third down,” associate head coach for defense Vic Koenning said. “We’ve been absolutely awful at that.”
Miami represents a tougher challenge than Virginia’s pedestrian offense. Preseason All-ACC running back Duke Johnson leads the conference in all-purpose yards with 1,260 (an average of 157.5 per game). In fact, Johnson’s 1,036 rushing yards are the eighth most of any back in all of college football.
In addition to Johnson, the Hurricanes boast a stable of speedsters in the passing game, including senior Phillip Dorsett, sophomore Stacy Coley and junior Herb Waters. How exactly is the Tar Heel defense preparing for Miami’s talented arsenal?
“The only way we could probably rehearse going against them would be to go out there on the interstate and play one-on-one with those cars,” Koenning said. “… It’s going to be a great task for us.”
All joking aside, Koenning and his defense will need to build on its performance against Virginia to contain Miami and help put its offense in position to score early and often.
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