CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – North Carolina’s beleaguered defensive line continued its gradual improvement in Saturday’s wipeout of a game against Virginia Tech, according to Larry Fedora.
“I thought our D-line played much better than they have,” Fedora said on Monday. “I thought that was their best game, especially inside. We got really a good push. I thought Naz Jones probably played the best game he’s played to this point.”
Virginia Tech ground out 264 total yards of offense – more than double UNC’s yardage – and averaged 3.2 yards per play in hurricane conditions at Kenan Stadium. Fedora noted that 27 of the Hokies’ 34 points came off turnovers and a mishandled punt snap at the four-yard line.
It’s hard to place too much emphasis on this performance given the conditions – Virginia Tech’s 264 yards are the most by any of the six teams that played in Triangle ACC action on Saturday – although there’s something to be said for quality grades in film review.
“Really, we just did our jobs,” Jones said. “We did it well. We didn’t really do anything special, but we just made plays when we had to. But we’ve got to be more consistent. It can’t just be one week on, one week off. We’ve got to have that kind of play week-in and week-out.”
A key component of that consistency, or lack thereof, is the fluid rotation that Gene Chizik has been forced to employ upfront. Eight different players have started at least one game, due to both injuries and production. Senior defensive end Mikey Bart is the only lineman to start every game.
Defensive ends Tyler Powell and Tomon Fox both missed Saturday’s game due to injury, and starting defensive tackle Aaron Crawford was helped off the field late and was unable to put any weight on his right leg. Junior defensive end Dajaun Drennon made his first appearance since foot surgery in April but only played a few snaps before appearing to grab his left hamstring during one play and sitting out the rest of the game.
Jones, however, dismissed the notion that the revolving door of bodies hurt the line’s consistency due to the competition such opportunity encourages.
“When guys get in, they’re trying to do their jobs to the best of their ability,” Jones said. “I think overall it will help us.”
At the midway point of the season, UNC ranks 66th nationally in yards per play allowed (5.6), 88th in total defense (426.3) and 113th in rushing defense (228.8).
“After looking at the film, it wasn’t any better. You know the old saying that it’s never as bad as you think it is or it’s never as good, well, it was. The positive things were that there were some good things for us on defense that we’re going to be able to build off of. Offensively, we’ve just put it away and hopefully it won’t ever happen like that again.”
How much value is there in film from a game like that?
“Well, you just have to take it into consideration. You know what problems the elements caused and you know you didn’t handle them very well. So you’ve got to learn from it.”
Did you treat film study any differently?
“No, we spent the same amount of time as we do always. We don’t discount any of the games, so we made sure that they understood what had to be done and why things happen the way they did. It was, offensively, very uncharacteristic. There were so many mistakes all over the place. Hopefully we’ll get that straightened out this week.”
Were there any long-lasting lessons to take away from playing a game in those conditions?
“I think there’s a tremendous amount of pressure on a punt team in those situations. I would say that I would have put more block situations in and come after them more. The one that ended up being snapped over their head, we were in a return mode there and had nobody with their eyes on it, so that’s my fault.”
Is there any change in Elijah Hood’s status this week?
“Not as of today. I still expect him to play. But we won’t know something until tomorrow when we get out to practice.”
How much does grit come into play heading to Miami after this type of loss?
“It’s going to be huge. Again, another ranked opponent on the road in a hostile environment. Our guys have done that, so they know what to expect. I expect our guys to bounce back. I think we had a good practice [on Sunday]. The energy level was good. I think they understand the task at hand, so I expect a really good week of preparation.”