Tar Heel Defense Making Strides

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – While costly turnovers continue to be the consistent theme for North Carolina this season, the defense has started to show signs of improvement. After reviewing the game tape, head coach Butch Davis shared his opinions during his Sunday teleconference.

"I think yesterday was maybe one of the most complete defensive games that we've had," Davis said concerning UNC's 17-10 loss to Virginia Tech. "In some respects, we limited the big play – with the exception of the [53-yard] reverse early in the ball game – and we didn't give up any really, really big pass plays."

North Carolina held the Hokies to 241 total offensive yards, marking the Tar Heels' best statistical performance to date. Even more impressive was that defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano's unit only allowed three first downs and 82 yards in the second half.

"We did some good things on defense," Davis said. "When the defense was really challenged late in the ball game, they got three straight three-and-outs which kind of gave us a chance to get back into the game."

The defense was by no means perfect, as they struggled throughout the day to bring down slippery quarterback Tyrod Taylor, missing a sack opportunity on third down that let the freshman scramble into the right side of the South end zone for VT's first score.

But the unit is slowly minimizing mistakes and communicating better with the staff on the sideline – essential ingredients for a defense that's looking for respect.

"During this first year, there's no insignificant opportunities," Davis said. "Whether its games, practices, plays – everything not only makes us better for the next week, but it makes us better for the next season."

Youth continues to be integrated into this defense, as freshman Quan Sturdivant made his first start on Saturday, collecting eight tackles and one sack at the strongside linebacker position.

"He added some speed to the defense – he did some good things," Davis said. "He got a sack, he got a pressure in the backfield, made some tackles and its part of the growing experience to get as many of these young guys opportunities to play to find out where's the best place [to put them]."

But the few veterans scattered throughout Pagano's squad remain the vital leaders, no matter how many underclassmen see live action and make noise on that side of the ball. Experience is a quality that cannot be taught on the practice field, but it is a necessity for game day success.

"Kentwan Balmer and Hilee Taylor continue to lead this team – the defensive part of it," Davis said. "Their effort is always good, their preparation is very good… I think Deunta Williams and Trimane Goddard are stepping up and really starting to understand the scheme and understand responsibilities and where they're supposed to be."

Even red-shirt sophomore Jermaine Strong – a veteran by this team's standards – showed the value of his ‘06 playing time by filling in nicely at cornerback when Kendric Williams left the game in the first quarter with a left knee injury.

"He came in after Kendric got injured and he made a good play, but he's got to do an awful lot of the things that you need to do," Davis said. "You've got to jam and re-route on certain coverages [and] you've got to make sure you're in the right position for support… As a staff, we felt like he did a nice job yesterday."

With the North Carolina offense set to face two of the nation's top defenses over the next two weeks in Miami (19th) and South Carolina (26th), the Tar Heels defense (347.8 ypg, 46th nationally) will play a significant role in giving this team an opportunity for victory.

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