CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – No. 17 North Carolina’s refreshed defense took its first significant step back during Saturday’s win over Duke.
“It was the first time that there were three or four glaring big plays that reared its ugly head,” defensive coordinator Gene Chizik said following Wednesday’s practice. “The standard for our defense is certainly not that.”
The Tar Heels allowed season-highs in total yards (533) and rushing yards (327) in the 66-31 victory. Duke’s 31 points also ties the season-high in points allowed, equaling Georgia Tech’s output.
The Blue Devils also scored 21 points after halftime. UNC gave up 40 second-half points combined to its first six FBS opponents.
“I think a lot of people were disappointed with the final result of how we played,” Chizik said. “Players, coaches and everybody, because, again, our expectation is to play good, solid defense every time we go out and play, no matter who it is. And we did not do that Saturday in a huge game.”
The reason for the regression was twofold.
“It was the big plays and the missed tackling, and a lot of the big plays were due to missed tackles,” Chizik said.
The Tar Heels gave up a season-high 10 explosive plays, which Chizik classifies as passing plays of 16+ yards and run plays of 12+yards. The former Auburn head coach said his defense also had the largest amount of missed tackles of the season.
He dismissed the notion that his defense relaxed when UNC took a 38-10 lead into halftime, saying that such an action would indicate his players were playing based on the circumstances of the game instead of playing unconditionally.
The breakdowns were addressed on Sunday and put to bed, as this coaching staff is fond of saying. The setback hasn’t affected the defense’s confidence or morale, according to senior linebacker Jeff Schoettmer.
“Even after the Virginia game, the Pitt game, all of those other games, we were disappointed in how we played,” Schoettmer said. “In the Virginia game we had five turnovers but we left a bunch on the table. That’s really the mindset that we’ve created. Last year if gave up 13 points and had five turnovers, we’d have been the happiest defense alive. It’s just the culture that these coaches have created.”
UNC will encounter its toughest test of the season, according to Chizik, when it lines up against a Miami offense averaging 5.98 yards per play and 403.2 yards per game.