One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- While North Carolina's defense consistently improves with each passing week, the offensive and special teams units continue to flounder through eight games. After reviewing the game tape, head coach Butch Davis shared his opinions during his Sunday teleconference.

Defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano's squad held Wake Forest to 269 yards of total offense in Saturday's 37-10 loss, marking the third time in four games that UNC's opponent has tallied less than 282 yards. The Tar Heels are now 37th nationally in total defense, allowing just 337.6 yards per game.

"I think our defense at times, just because of the nature of the field position, did a really good job of holding them to some field goals – that part of it was a little bit of a positive," Davis said.

The secondary was thought to be a serious concern heading into the weekend's in-state rivalry game following starting cornerback Jermaine Strong's suspension on Monday. In a desperate turn of events, Richie Rich, who started the season atop the depth chart at running back, moved to defensive back and played a significant amount of snaps against the Demon Deacons.

"He basically had had about two-and-a-half weeks [of practice]," Davis said. "The first week was kind of an experimentation to look and see if he could maybe help us, and last week during the open date with a lot of work to see if he could maybe to get into some [playing time], and lo and behold, he ends up having to play in some of our nickel situations."

But despite a strong defensive performance, the other two North Carolina phases gift-wrapped several early Christmas presents to the Demon Deacons. Kevin Marion returned two kickoffs for 181 yards – one for a score and the other setting up a touchdown at the UNC 14-yard line, and linebacker Aaron Curry added a 77-yard interception return for touchdown and a second pick that set up an early field goal.

Another special teams blunder led to a turnover and Wake Forest points, as a Sam Swank punt inadvertently hit Rich's foot, giving the Demon Deacons the ball at the UNC 22-yard line and setting up another successful field goal attempt.

Those five plays resulted in 27 Wake Forest points.

"That's way too many points, way too many negative plays that turned out to be big plays," Davis said. "We've certainly got to play much better than that to give ourselves a chance. We've got to be more efficient than we were yesterday."

North Carolina's kickoff coverage unit is now ranked 117th nationally, giving up 26.1 yards per return. Davis reiterated on Sunday that the youth permeating the program continues to be problematic in the special teams areas.

"The other area where we're really struggling is with the talent, from a depth standpoint," Davis said. "We're probably three to four linebackers short on this football team. We're probably two safeties and two corners short of being able to have enough depth and talent to be able to augment and help our special teams…

"A lot of these guys – the true freshmen – are having to play defense and they're also having to play on special teams, and before the end of the day, your coverage units really get taxed."

With so many freshmen playing on the offensive and defensive two-deep, the coaching staff is essentially at a dead end in figuring out how to proceed in the special teams phase.

"We scour the depth chart and the board – once you eliminate your offensive linemen, your defensive linemen and some quarterbacks, the pool of people that are available to you is pretty limited," Davis said.

Unfortunately for the Tar Heels' 2007 postseason bowl hopes, Davis indicated that the only way to resolve the issues is by building depth through offseason recruiting. But with only a handful of seniors on the current roster, will there be enough scholarships available to make an impact on the 2008 season?

"We'll have a good recruiting class this year," Davis said. "We'll have pretty good numbers."

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