CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – North Carolina defensive coordinator Gene Chizik offered some harsh words of criticism for his defense following Tuesday’s practice in the aftermath of last week’s loss to Duke.
The Tar Heels built a 14-0 lead before the Blue Devils exploded in the second quarter for 21 points and 169 yards to tie the game at 21-21.
“It was very disappointing,” Chizik said. “I thought that we were an ascending defense there for about a month. I felt like for sure one quarter we had a meltdown and we weren’t playing college-level football. And again, it all boiled down to discipline issues. Guys not doing their job. That’s what happens when you’re in a big game that’s very important and you decide to take a quarter off and just do what you want to do.”
Duke scored touchdowns on all four red zone trips and converted 10-of-17 third downs, which allowed David Cutcliffe’s squad to dominate the time of possession (36:51-22:21) and run 29 more plays than UNC (89-60). Missed assignments and general lack of execution added up to work against the Tar Heels.
“If you’re going to play good defense, everybody’s got to do their job and be where they’re supposed to be, and it’s got to be important to you,” Chizik said. “If one or two guys don’t believe that is important enough, then it breaks down your whole defense and that’s unfortunate. That’s what happened.”
The second-year UNC defensive coordinator still believes his defense has gotten better each week, which is what led him to expect his defense to play much better at Wallace Wade Stadium. The first two possessions, yielding Duke punts, suggested that trend would continue. Then, as Chizik put it, his defense’s play took a “nose dive.”
“Any time your offense scores 27 points, you should win,” Chizik said. “That’s how I see it. And our offense scored 27 points and we didn’t win. That’s directly on us defensively.”
Senior cornerback Des Lawrence and various other Tar Heels have been unable to explain why things transpired the way they did in Durham.
“It just wasn’t our day,” Lawrence said. “Guys just didn’t make enough plays. Maybe it was a lack of energy or entitlement. I don’t know exactly what it was, but we just didn’t go out there and perform well.”
The good news is that UNC’s veteran leadership on the defensive side of the ball has promoted a bounce-back mentality that’s reduced the learning curve after breakdowns and allowed the unit to make corrections quickly and then move forward.
“One thing I really like about our defense is when you challenge them, they respond,” Chizik said. “There’s very few times when we’ve challenged them and they haven’t really responded favorably. We did that this week going into this particular game. We did a little bit at halftime at Duke."
That approach will be important this week as UNC looks to avoid a setback against The Citadel, a top-10 undefeated FCS program that is averaging 347.2 rushing yards per game at a 5.5 yards-per-play clip.