Experience Starting To Pay Dividends

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – North Carolina's players are finally beginning to trust one another on the football field, and that cohesiveness yielded some positive results in Saturday's 16-13 victory over Maryland. After reviewing the game tape, head coach Butch Davis shared his opinions during his Sunday teleconference.

Defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano's unit continues its rapid maturation through nine games this fall, as the Tar Heels held the Terrapins to 302 yards, while keeping constant pressure on quarterback Chris Turner and limiting standout running backs Keon Lattimore and Lance Ball.

"Going into the game, one of our biggest concerns was Maryland's ability to run the football," Davis said. "… After you take away the sacks, we ended up giving up only 93 yards rushing and that was clearly a very good positive."

North Carolina's opponents averaged 374.5 yards of total offense through the first four games of the season, but that statistic has dropped to 301 yards over the last five contests. Davis indicated on Sunday that the defense has limited its mental mistakes and pointed to a more manageable 10 to 12 errors against Maryland.

"I think our execution has gotten better as these guys have played a lot more," Davis said. "We're playing two freshmen corners, a freshman safety, two freshmen linebackers and when Marvin [Austin] comes into the game, that's another freshman, and at least they've played enough to kind of grow to where they're making better decisions and understanding some of the adjustments that you have to make when the game is going on."

Defensive tackle Kentwan Balmer talked about his unit's improvement following the victory on Saturday night, and the senior suggested that his teammates being able to lean on one another has played a key role in this midseason transformation.

"A lot of people are buying into what we're doing now," Balmer said. "I feel like early on, maybe some guys wanted to do their own thing – myself included – we were making mistakes and not trusting each other… This is just a team that's going out there and putting it on the line for each other."

But a portion of the defense's success must also be attributed to the Tar Heels' ground game. While not seeing the same level of explosion that their counterparts have experienced, the running backs and offensive line have plodded along, making strides with each passing week.

Opponents were averaging 76 snaps per game through the first four games of the season, and that number has dropped to 61.6 snaps over the last five contests.

Johnny White headlined the running back by committee attack on Saturday night, gaining 92 yards on 18 carries, while Anthony Elzy contributed 37 yards on eight carries. Success running the ball helps to milk the game clock, limiting the opposing team's opportunities on the offensive side of the ball.

Davis, however, is not ready to heap a ton of praise on his running game quite yet.

"It was a little bit better in some areas, but there were some areas where we missed some chances to have some better runs," Davis said. "We missed some things with some of their stunts and blitzes that we've just got to do a better job at in these next three games.

"When people give us those kinds of things, we've got to communicate better along the offensive line that they're changing the fronts and [for] everybody to get on the same page to make sure that we're all blocking the same front."

North Carolina will face a N.C. State defense that allowed Miami to run all over them to the tune of 314 yards, so the opportunity exists for this Tar Heel ground game to see significant gains in next Saturday's rivalry clash at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh, N.C.

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