CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – North Carolina’s defense understands that big plays are a part of the game of football. It’s the catastrophic plays that they look to eliminate.
“There’s big plays, which are like, 14-to-16-yard plays, and then there’s catastrophic plays, which are your 60-70-80-yard plays,” senior linebacker Shakeel Rashad explained after Monday’s practice.
Eliminating catastrophic plays has been a focal point of the Tar Heels’ game preparation for South Carolina, and it may have something to do with what happened the last time the two teams met.
North Carolina played solid defensively in its 27-10 loss to the Gamecocks in 2013 outside of two plays that fell under the “catastrophic” category. The Tar Heels allowed just five third-down conversions and would have held South Carolina to just 266 yards had it not been for two huge scoring plays.
The first came on the game’s opening drive, when quarterback Conner Shaw threw a 65-yard touchdown pass to Shaq Roland on a post route. The second occurred in the second half when Mike Davis ran 75 yards past the UNC defense for a touchdown, putting the game out of reach.
The Tar Heels hope to avoid those explosive plays against the Gamecocks on Thursday night by sticking to the basics.
“It goes back to assignment football," senior linebacker Jeff Schoettmer said. "Eleven guys have to do their job on any given play. One guy doesn’t do their job, and ten others do it right, then that could lead to a catastrophic play.”
While coaching helps in these situations, head coach Larry Fedora stressed that it was up to the players to eliminate plays for large chunks of yards.
"We put people in the proper places to make plays, and they’ve got to make the plays,” Fedora said. “All we can do is put them in position, coach them up, teach them the fundamentals, and then they’ve got to make the plays.”