The Rush Is On

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Forget for a moment North Carolina is 0-2 and preparing as underdogs going into Saturday's rivalry game with N.C. State. There is a refreshing air of good feeling this week surrounding the Tar Heels' defense.

Audio: CHASE PAGE (6:09)

The Carolina defense has allowed an average of 144 yards rushing per game and 245 yards passing – 389 yards total. By this time last year, following games versus William & Mary, Virginia and Georgia Tech, the UNC defense was giving up 423 yards per contest.

It's a minimal contrast, except when you consider after yielding 475 yards against Georgia Tech on Sept. 10, the UNC defense rebounded by allotting just 304 yards to the team with the highest scoring player in Division I-A (Brian Calhoun – 48 points).

The Tar Heels only out-gained five opponents last season, despite going 6-6. Ironically, the Wolfpack was the only Carolina opponent in '04 that edged the Heels in total offense and lost.

"Everybody is just gaining confidence," said defensive tackle Chase Page. "We need to play really well this week to show that last week wasn't just some kind of one time thing. We need to steadily improve to show that we can play big time defense."

Page recorded one of four sacks against the Badgers last Saturday night. Last season, UNC recorded six sacks against Duke and four against Miami, but only averaged one sack in its other ten games.

"I think it was just guys saying, ‘OK, even if I'm not going to get there, I'm going to rush as hard as I can and take up this man; so that the guy who is free can have a chance to get there,'" Page said explaining UNC's impressive pass rush against Wisconsin. "If everybody does that and sells out on every single pressure – and gets the quarterback moving around and thinking about the rush and not about the receivers – you can get to him."

Page went on to compare the N.C. State offensive line with Georgia Tech's and Wisconsin's.

"Tech's offensive line may have not been as physically talented, but they were well coached," he said. "They were talented enough to do what they needed to do. And, obviously, it's hard to get sacks on Reggie Ball – he's that talented of a runner.

"Wisconsin, they're just big, huge guys. N.C. State is kind of in between. They have a little bit of athleticism, but they're kind of big as well. They're pretty well coached, but I think we've seen a pretty good offensive line in Wisconsin."

One thing's for sure, an improved UNC pass rush can only help the defense as a whole. And apparently, both the Tar Heels' defensive front and its secondary are close to being on the same page.

"Rushing the passer is a team thing," Page said. "The DBs have got to give us time to get back there, and we've got to make sure they're not back there by themselves the whole time. The more pressure we get, the better our DBs will be able to perform and we'll start intercepting some of those balls we've been getting our hands on.

"‘Ced' Holt was cheering for us and getting us fired up. It's kind of a spirit of cooperation. The better we play, the better they'll play and the better we'll all play."

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