Inside Carolina/Jim Hawkins

UNC's Defense Ahead of Offense

The Tar Heel defense won the spring game, 80-70.

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Ever since arriving at UNC, Larry Fedora’s offense has been the golden child and the record setter of the program, so it only makes sense for the defense to savor its current role on top.

Jalen Dalton smiled, but didn’t want to rub it in. Dajaun Drennon did the same, chuckling while dismissing a question about the defense winning consistently over the offense in spring ball, much like it did in Saturday’s spring game. Andre Smith, however, is not one to hold back.

“It’s always nice to be the winner.”

Strange days, indeed. With a patchwork offensive line, a running back corps lacking a scholarship player for most of the game and the team’s 2017 starting quarterback likely not even enrolled yet, UNC’s offense struggled to find a consistent rhythm in the 80-70 loss. It was 43-21 at halftime after a string of three-and-outs and only that close because Nathan Elliott heated up and connected with Austin Proehl for a 65-yard touchdown pass just before the break.

Elliott was the best quarterback at Fetzer Field, completing 8-of-12 passes for 213 yards and three touchdowns. However, the competition in spring with Chazz Surratt, Logan Byrd and Manny Miles has resulted in equal reps without a frontrunner.

“Nobody has separated themselves,” Fedora told reporters after the scrimmage. “We’ve got four guys that are competing for the job right now. I think all four have made good progress. I don’t think that any one of them is ready to go for us at this point.”

The offense has been anything but settled this spring, which is a sharp contrast from the previous two offseasons. With centers Tommy Hatton and Jay-Jay McCargo sidelined due to injury, Nick Polino slid from guard to center and Bentley Spain moved from tackle to guard. At running back, Jordon Brown missed the game due to injury and stud frosh Michael Carter hurt his ankle several series in. Wide receivers Juval Mollette and Roscoe Johnson provided plenty of flashes at a position group in desperate need of players that will step up in place of Ryan Switzer, Mack Hollins and Bug Howard.

“We all realize this is Division I football and this is what happens,” Austin Proehl said. “Guys come, guys go, and you’ve got to step up and replace the void, so that’s what we’re doing and that’s what we’re going to work on throughout the summer. Spring ball was good for us. It was good for a lot of guys. I think people realize where they are, what they need to work on and hopefully come Fall No. 1, when we see you guys again, it will be a different team.”

Defense is finally a different story. When John Papuchis’s crew has to replace four starters, there are plenty of returners with playing experience and a solid amount of depth across all three lines.

“We’re experienced on defense,” Smith said. “A lot of guys came back. We’ve played a lot of ball together and so we’re experienced. We’re cohesive and we’re moving together and growing together. That’s really how a team should be. The defense should be the No. 1 force. Scoring is great, don’t get me wrong, but if the opposing offense can’t score points, then it all plays out.”

Spain noted that while last spring was designed around building continuity on offense, this spring has been more about building experience and depth. The opposite is true of the defense, which is why those Tar Heels couldn’t help but to smile when reminded of yet another win in spring ball over their counterparts.

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