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* Not only will the Tar Heels look to break the Charlottesville curse that has loomed over this program for a quarter-century when they face Virginia on Saturday afternoon, but they will also have to figure out head coach Al Groh's 3-4 defense.
Davis discussed the pros and cons of the defensive scheme on Wednesday afternoon.
"I don't know how many cons there are," the second-year head coach said. "It's basically a personal opinion and preference by the head coach and the defensive coordinator. The pros will tell you that it gives you clearly a balanced look. You are symmetrically and schematically split right down the middle."
Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick mastered the defensive set in the 1980s, utilizing UNC alum Lawrence Taylor and Carl Banks at the outside linebacker spots to wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks. Groh joined the Giants' staff as linebackers coach in 1989, explaining his current use of the scheme.
"You didn't know which of those guys was coming," Davis said, referring to Taylor and Banks. "You could sit there and look at them, [and not know]."
In a 3-4 set, the front seven are typically bigger defenders than what a 4-3 set calls for, in order for the linebackers to get mismatches against tight ends and running backs. Davis indicated that Virginia's current linebackers would serve as defensive ends in North Carolina's defense.
In 1979, Davis was a member of the Oklahoma State coaching staff that shifted from a 3-4 defense to a 4-3 scheme in the middle of the season, partly due to personnel, but also because the 3-4 set struggled against more open offenses. Davis used Texas Tech as an example of an offense that could cause problems by pairing multiple receivers up against linebackers more geared to stopping the run in offenses such as the wishbone and split-back veer.
He is not opposed to working elements of the 3-4 scheme into his current packages.
"We've played some 3-4 in every game we've played this season," Davis said. "We may do it in some nickel and dime situations, and there are some advantages schematically."
* Brandon Tate's college career may have ended on Saturday afternoon against Notre Dame, but successful surgery to repair the anterior cruciate (ACL) and medial collateral ligament (MCL) in his right knee on Wednesday means that his professional aspirations remain fully intact.
"We were able to repair both damaged ligaments," said Dr. Tim Taft, who performed the surgery at UNC Hospitals. "I expect Brandon to make a full recovery and resume his playing career."
Davis shared the good news with reporters at the end of Wednesday's media session.
"It was exactly as they speculated – when they got in there, there were no surprises," Davis said. "They fully expect him to have a 100-percent recovery. They're going to keep him in overnight just for observation and then release him in the morning. He'll back over at the building tomorrow. They were very, very pleased with the way that it went."
* With Tate off John Shoop's laboratory shelf, Brooks Foster is now solidly entrenched as UNC's No. 2 option at wideout behind Hakeem Nicks. The fifth-year senior has shown flashes of brilliance over the past two seasons, but he has disappeared at times as well.
During last weekend's victory over Notre Dame, Foster had three drops and one bobbling reception, although one of those drops was the highly-controversial play on third down late in the game that gave the Irish the ball back with under two minutes to play. For the Tar Heels to continue their efficient play in the passing game, Foster will need to be a consistent option on the perimeter for the remainder of the schedule.
"It is a coordinator's challenge every week when you've got a lot guys that deserve touches," Davis said. "In different schemes and different teams, the matchups are different. If you go back to the James Madison game [last year], he lit it up the first game of the season.
"It's just a matter of where you put them, how you design the game plan and who the matchups are. With Brandon [Tate], Brooks and Hakeem, along with the running back and the tight ends, we just try to be as balanced as you can."
* At the midway point of the season, North Carolina owns a 5-1 record with a top-25 national ranking. While most preseason prognosticators expected a solid showing this fall from the Tar Heels, very few thought UNC would be sitting in its current position.
The Tar Heels head coach, however, is not surprised with his program's progress in '08.
"I think it's gone pretty much the way that I thought that it would go," Davis said.