CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – No. 17 North Carolina turned in a performance against Duke that was nearly flawless.
It wasn’t, though. And that one flaw was glaring.
“There’s not a guy in the locker room on defense that’s very happy right now,” head coach Larry Fedora said following UNC’s 66-31 walloping of Duke. “We’re 8-1, that’s the thing I’ve got to emphasize to them, but they have a standard they want to hit, and they didn’t hit it, and they know that, and they feel that.”
The Tar Heels’ trend of failing to stop the run continued on Saturday. UNC allowed a season-high 327 rushing yards on 44 attempts, good for a season-high 7.4 yards-per-rush average.
Senior linebacker Shakeel Rashad attributes the problem to failing to find holes in the offensive line.
“It’s just fitting the gaps right,” Rashad said. “They did a good job of kind of moving guys around and moving our gaps, but it’s nothing we haven’t seen before, it’s nothing that we’re not capable of fitting out the right way. We’ve just got to make sure we’re fitting those things right and I think we’ll knock off a couple hundred rushing yards.”
A chunk of that yardage – 105, to be exact - came on a pair of catastrophic plays that resulted in touchdowns for Duke.
Early in the second quarter, Duke running back Jela Duncan took a handoff 52 yards to the end zone. In defense of the defense, safety Sam Smiley pulled up with an apparent hamstring injury while in pursuit.
The second catastrophic run occurred early in the third quarter, when quarterback Thomas Sirk scampered 53 yards on a keeper for the score.
“That’s something we’ll look at [on Sunday],” sophomore defensive lineman Nazair Jones said. “We’re just lucky to get out of here with a win.”
The good news for UNC is that its final three regular season opponents aren’t exactly gashing opponents on the ground.
Miami is ranked 13th in the ACC in rushing yards, averaging 125.9 yards per game. Virginia Tech is netting 161.7 rushing yards per game, good for 10th in the league, while N.C. State (194.9) is without its top two running backs in Shadrach Thornton (dismissed) and Matt Dayes (foot injury).
Exposure concerns could arise in the postseason. UNC, which can clinch the Coastal Division title with two wins in its final three games, would face. No. 1 Clemson and its top-25 rushing offense (217.8) if it were to advance to the ACC Championship Game.