CHAPEL HILL, NC – Head coach Larry Fedora’s trust in his defense is growing week by week, and after Saturday’s 35-14 win over Virginia it’s at an all-time high. UNC held Virginia to 253 total yards of offense and an average of three yards per play.
Fedora says that the trust he has in his defense has been built by the unit’s growing confidence in itself.
“A lot of it has to do with our confidence,” Fedora said on his radio show on Tuesday. “We’ve talked about it every week, they’ve gotten a little bit better and they feel good where they are right now. Their eyes are where they’re supposed to be. They know if they just do their job within the scheme that they’ll be successful.”
Fedora says the improvements the Tar Heels’ have had on the defensive side of the ball came with time, and that his assistants are to thank for sticking with the process.
“Gene (Chizik) and the defensive staff have done a great job of being patient with these guys and each week you’ve seen a little bit of improvement and now in the last couple of weeks you’ve seen a lot of improvement,” Fedora said.
The key in Saturday’s win was keeping Virginia’s offense, which thrives on big plays, tamed. The Tar Heels did that, as the Cavaliers' biggest play of the game only resulted in 16 yards.
“When you look at all (Virginia's) games it was all about explosive plays,” Fedora said. “They weren’t really consistent in doing anything and a lot of those explosive plays came on the second play… We worked hard on making sure they stayed with their guys in those situations. I think we had four explosive plays of 12 yards or more that we allowed and that’s pretty phenomenal.”
For a defensive unit that has struggled with injuries, especially on the defensive line, Fedora says he is starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Players have stepped up in others' absences, like Ayden Bonilla – who recorded eight tackles in place of the suspended Andre Smith.
With the win, UNC has now won nine-straight road games. Fedora says those types of streaks are hard to come by and wouldn’t have happened without the defense stepping up to the plate in recent weeks.
“Really proud of those guys,” Fedora said. “To go on the road in the league and win is really tough to do. It’s really difficult. That’s why I think this streak is No. 2 in the country from what I’m told. So that goes to tell you that it’s hard.”
Four regular season games remain for UNC, to further test the team's growing defensive confidence. While each opponent may provide unique challenges (especially Georgia Tech's triple-option attack), none of the remaining opponents are highly regarded offensive teams -- Georgia Tech (No. 107 nationally in total offense), Duke (No. 93), and NC State (No. 72). NCSU - 79