CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Gene Chizik was unable to pinpoint one specific detail to explain his defense’s struggles through five games on Tuesday, and that’s typically the case for a unit that ranks 105th nationally in total defense.
The Tar Heels are allowing 31 points and 458.8 yards per game, and the defense leaned heavily on its offense to make plays in the final minutes of Saturday’s upset at Florida State.
Chizik highlighted a mixture of issues, including missed assignments and missed tackles, as well as an inability to make plays at critical junctures of the game. Case in point: Florida State took advantage of a linebacker out of position on 3rd-and-9 with 1:37 to play to flip the field with a 41-yard pass play to Dalvin Cook.
“Those things are what we need to clean up,” Chizik said. “The players know it. We’re very adamant about getting those cleaned up. It’s about time we do it, right?”
Chizik spoke of the frustration involved with the miscues being tied to the minor details of the players’ specific roles, noting that an offense as good as the Seminoles’ will capitalize if a defender is a mere three feet out of position.
Despite Florida State’s ability to churn out yards throughout the game, UNC held the Seminoles to 14 points through three quarters. The primary reason is the Tar Heels won every third down up to that point (0-of-6). FSU converted 4-of-5 third downs in the final frame.
“You go to the fourth quarter, you saw a team that couldn’t make any productive plays when the game was on the line, and that was very frustrating,” Chizik said.
A week after stonewalling Pittsburgh in the fourth quarter, UNC did a 180 in Tallahassee, playing well enough for the first three quarters before collapsing.
“If we ever pull that thing together, and actually do what we’re supposed to do for a 60-minute game, we’ve got a chance to be a really good defense,” Chizik said. “Right now we’re too sporadic. That’s why we practice.”
There have been some positives. Chizik indicated the interior defensive line play has consistently improved since the James Madison win on Sept. 17. The other aspect worth considering, according to Chizik, is the quality of opponent.
“If you look at where we were this time last year, with the same record, we’ve played a lot more potent offenses at this point in time than we did last year,” Chizik said. “That’s made a difference.”
While that may be the case, UNC’s next two opponents – No. 25 Virginia Tech and No. 10 Miami – are both ranked top-50 in total offense and top-25 in scoring offense, so the challenges will continue.