Andy: It's the defensive line

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – While finding a scapegoat is a not the aim here, the Tar Heels would be celebrating their second win in a row right now if UNC's defensive line could have gotten within earshot of ASU quarterback Andrew Walter <i>(pictured)</i>, or if it had not been blown off the ball on nearly every ASU running play.

There is substantial defensive improvement – to the point that the linebacking corps and the injury-depleted secondary can no longer be lumped in amid the problems any more. Carolina's offense has been sporadic, but is steadily developing its four-headed rushing attack to go with its passing, as Tar Heel rushers were able to grind up 164 yards.

"We did a lot of good things out there, and we played a little better on defense," UNC coach John Bunting said. "I think that this may have been our best defensive effort, although I know the yards will be big again."

But this day, one in which it was mathematically eliminated from bowl eligibility on a 61-yard drive given up in the game's last 36 seconds, Carolina gave up its 1,605th yard of rushing offense. And thanks to a pass rushing front four that has sacked the quarterback just eight times (Alden Blizzard 3.0, Issac Mooring 2.0, Chase Page 1.5 and Madison Hedgecock 1.5), UNC also allowed it 2,040th passing yard as well.

"It all happens up front," Bunting said describing the importance of the offensive line prior to the ECU game.

He surely meant for the phrase to extend to the defensive side of the ball as well.

"One thing we're not doing well is pressuring the quarterback," he said following the Saturday's loss to the Sun Devils.

Arizona State's veteran offensive line was able to form a Teflon-coated, semi-circular ring around Walter that R&D executives at Corning would envy.

Much like N.C. State's Philip Rivers was earlier this season against the Tar Heels, Walter felt as comfortable in the pocket as he must in his own living room, as he picked UNC defense apart for a whopping 408 yards passing.

The Sun Devils' players must have been shocked to have nearly lost the game considering how dominant they were on offense.

"I have to tip my hat off to the guys up front," free safety Dexter Reid said. "They're making progress each and every day. But our whole team thought we should have won this game. We just have to finish. It's a 60-minute ballgame."

Things shouldn't have gotten this bad to begin with anyway.

Due to unfulfilled classroom requirements, Hargrave Military Academy is currently housing four players who could have clearly impacted the Tar Heels defensive line this season. Providing 2003 signees' Terry Hunter, Khalif Mitchell, Marcus Hands and Kenny Price can fulfill their life's most important goals this academic year, then help is on the way in a big way in 2004.

A commitment from their teammate, Thomasville, N.C. defensive lineman Brandon Setzer, would help solidify Carolina's fortunes in this position group for years to come.

And to go along with Isaiah Thomas, Shelton Bynum and current redshirt freshman Kyndraus Guy, the Tar Heels' future skill and depth along the defensive front line should one day be fearsome.

In the meantime, don't count out a trailing UNC opponent, even when the Kenan Stadium clock reads all zeros.

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