CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – In a game where penalties and sloppy play affected North Carolina for four quarters, the Tar Heel linebacker corps served as the most impressive unit on the field.
Seniors Shakeel Rashad and Jeff Schoettmer, along with freshman Andre Smith, finished UNC’s 26-13 victory over Virginia with a combined 26 tackles. The unit played arguably its best game of the season, validating weeks of hard practices.
“It feels great when you’re playing the way you should be playing,” Rashad told reporters after the game. “There’s no better feeling, because you’re like, this is what we spent all year for, and it’s worth it.”
Rashad finished the game with a team-high 10 tackles and a key interception in the end zone during the fourth quarter. The interception was one of five turnovers the Tar Heels forced in six second-half drives for Virginia.
“Once we get into the flow of the game and we understand what the offense is doing, our guys play so much better,” said Schoettmer, who recorded nine tackles. “The first two drives of the game, they moved the ball down the field a little bit, and then the rest of the game we knew what they were trying to do. We picked up on their tendencies, and Coach kept the calls basic, and we just went out and played and out-executed them.”
Schoettmer’s versatility allowed the coaching staff to slide him to outside linebacker in order to insert Smith at middle linebacker.
“Scheme-wise, it’s definitely different, middle-outside, but I know after I got my feet wet in the first two series I was pretty comfortable with it and that was fine,” Schoettmer said.
Smith made seven tackles in the game, and played a critical role in anchoring the defense from the Mike linebacker spot. Fedora has stated multiple times this year that he wants to play his best three linebackers at all time, and Smith’s ability to lead the defense despite being relatively new to the college game allows him to do that.
“I love it when Andre comes in,” Rashad said. “He plays so hard, and he loves the game, and he does a great job of preparing throughout the week because of that. So when he comes in the game, there’s no worry in anyone’s mind that he’s going know what he’s doing.”
Schoettmer (51) and Rashad (48) rank second and third on the team, respectively, in tackles this season. Smith is currently fifth with 26 tackles.