Tough Running For Heels

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – There's plenty of blame to go around for North Carolina's inauspicious start to the 2006 season. The defense has had trouble stopping the run, and the Tar Heels' rush offense has done little to keep the defense off the field.

UNC (1-3, 0-2 ACC) enters Saturday's game with Miami (2-2, 0-1) ranked eighth in the conference averaging 123.2 rushing yards per game. In two conference games, the Tar Heels are netting just 71.5 yards per game on the ground.

"We have not been able to run the ball as effectively as we've wanted to," John Bunting said.

Rebuilding the right side of the offensive line has been a challenge, but at least from a protection standpoint, it's been effective. No ACC team has allowed fewer sacks than the four the Tar Heels have given up.

"I don't think it's anything the offensive line is doing wrong," Ronnie McGill said trying to pinpoint the causes for UNC's rushing woes.

He doesn't think it's a matter of substandard talent or depth, either.

"We have the man power," McGill said. "We've run it well before. We've showed against different teams with drives where we ran the ball well."

In all fairness, the Tar Heels have not lost to a bad team this season, but the Hurricanes present another stiff challenge for the UNC running game. Miami's run defense is the best in the league, yielding just 64.5 rushing yards per game.

"Miami is a hard team to run the ball against," Bunting said. "I think this Miami team is even better than they were last year."

That's saying a lot, since UM's defense was ranked No. 1 in the nation when UNC traveled to Coral Gables last season. However, at least for one half, McGill and Barrington Edwards pounded the vaunted Hurricanes' defense for over 100 rushing yards and two McGill touchdowns.

"That felt good," McGill said. "It was on national TV. It was against the No. 1 defense. Being able to just go down there and keep running it and putting it into the end zone… It felt great for a little while.

"After a couple of runs, they were just looking around trying to figure out what was going on. It shows us if we go out there with the right mindset, we can do it all over again, but this time we know we have to do it the whole game."

The Tar Heels had Miami on the ropes and were driving for more points late in the half, but had to settle for a 16-7 lead at intermission.

"We had everything going for us in that first half," Bunting said. "We were running the ball, we had two interceptions and Matt Baker was making some plays. They're pretty doggone good. Defending the run they were pretty doggone stout.

"But that was last year's team. This year's is a different situation. You've got to run the football to be able to contend in games. Each team is somewhat different. With somewhat of a new offense we're doing things a little differently."

McGill said, "They're a really athletic team and really fast. You've got to use that to your advantage. We made some runs that we expect them to overflow. Then we would make a cut off of them – watching how they pursue. It wasn't just me doing wonderful things. Some of it, I made a couple of plays, but most of it was just being patient and waiting for them to make cut backs.

"We've seen what they can do, and we know we're capable of beating them. We've just got to pull it all together."

That was then, and Miami shut down Carolina the rest of the way en route to a 36-16 victory.

This is now. For the Tar Heels to have a chance to break out of its doldrums on Saturday, they'll have to effectively run the ball from start to finish.

McGill said he hopes with the extra time during this past bye week, they will be able to solve the problems with their running attack.

"We have to be able to make quicker adjustments," he said. "The coaches put us in the right situations, but we're not doing the things we're supposed to do. When those teams come out and start shifting around and doing things we're not used to seeing, we've just got to be able to adjust to them as quickly as they adjust to us."


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