CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – On the third play from scrimmage on Saturday night, North Carolina’s defensive line heard two different calls from its linebackers. The result was an under front instead of an over front, which opened up the B gap on the right side for Ke’Shawn Vaughn to sprint 65 yards for a touchdown.
Misfits, missed tackles and a lack of knowledge of the opposing scheme was too much for the Tar Heels to overcome in their season-opening loss to Georgia. After a couple of early errors against Illinois, including some wrong guesses on play calls, UNC’s defense settled down and worked through adjustments quickly to take control of the game.
“Our guys have done a really good job of understanding on the sideline big concepts and how to fix problems, so I thought they did a good job of that Saturday night,” defensive coordinator Gene Chizik said after Tuesday’s practice.
In 2015, the defensive coaching staff kept its scheme incredibly basic, emphasizing understanding and execution over complexity. All three components were blended during the offseason, and it’s been evident with an increase in blitzes, shifts and personnel packages during UNC’s first two games of 2016.
That wouldn’t have happened had the Tar Heel defenders been slow to pick up the additional content.
“I think our kids are really smart,” Chizik said. “I think they have very good football IQs. When we have to make an adjustment, obviously, we’re going to have to do something that makes sense, that plays into their world. And they’re very good about that, so we can have intelligent football conversations on the sideline. If we’re not, we can’t have that adjustment.”
That ability to adjust on the fly will be tested yet again on Saturday as the Tar Heels welcome James Madison and its first-year head coach Mike Houston to Kenan Stadium for their home opener.
Powell Back; Hatton Still Missing
Larry Fedora told reporters on Monday that he believed defensive end Tyler Powell and right guard Tommy Hatton would return to practice on Tuesday after being absent last week and not traveling to Illinois. Hatton was not at practice, although Powell was back practicing with the twos.
“We’re going to look and see basically how it unfolds during the week,” Chizik said of Powell’s potential playing time on Saturday. “See how he practices, how he picks up on the game plan, and things of that nature. We’ll play it by ear.”
Drennon on the Mend
Dajaun Drennon, who has started 25 games at defensive end during his career, remains sidelined while recovering from a broken foot that required surgery in April. He did not dress out for UNC’s games against Georgia and Illinois to open the season.
Chizik told reporters that Drennon is “still a little ways off, but making strides.”