Withers, Part III: Prevent

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. --- During the 2008 North Carolina season there was a lot of angry fan chatter about UNC's "prevent defense" and some of that chatter reached defensive coordinator Everett Withers.

Notably at Virginia and at Maryland, the Tar Heels held the lead until late in the game, but succumbed when those offenses were able to gobble up yardage in the final minutes. If UNC fans are looking for an apologetic Withers, they'll be disappointed.

"I've had calls, I've had nasty notes, I've had the whole gambit on prevent defense," Withers said. "I don't believe there is such a thing as prevent defense.

Inside Carolina's Buck Sanders sat down with UNC defensive coordinator Everett Withers earlier this month for a one-on-one interview. This is a five-part series running all this week from that interview session.
Part I: Fitting In
Part II: Football Junkie
Part III: Prevent
Part IV: Thursday
Part V: Friday
"The ultimate goal is to force the offense to eat up the clock, keep them in bounds, make them run the clock, and make them do something within that series that they don't want to have to do. That's the ultimate goal. It has nothing to do with yards, it's got nothing to do with whether they are catching passes or not -- it's got to do with if they catch it, you tackle them, and the clock runs. That's the bottom line and that's our philosophy, and that's what we do."

Though the Tar Heels weren't able to make that happen against Virginia and Maryland, it didn't come from a lack of emphasis in practice on late game situations, according to Withers.

"We practice situations every week -- we practice two-minute situations, we practice four-minute situations, we practice all those situations during training camp, during spring, and during the season every week," he said. "We go through whether we want to rush four, whether we want to rush three, whether we want to prevent the pass."

The execution of the defensive plan doesn't always live up to its design, Withers indicated, and there are factors that can come into play that work against this approach.

"If they make a play, or we get a penalty, then it stresses you a little bit more in those situations," he concluded. "I read an article the other day talking about prevent defense against Duke. We won the game, we intercepted a pass -- we won the game. That's the ultimate goal. Sometimes it doesn't happen that way.

"(The defense in late game situations) is determined by how many timeouts the other team has, what they have to get to win the game -- Do they have to score a touchdown? Do they need a field goal? -- all that determines what we're going to put out there on the field."

In critiquing the defense, Withers evaluates the entire unit throughout, not just what occurs at the end of games.

"People look at the prevent, whether you're going to rush four or rush three -- that stuff is all good," he said, "but I'm looking at, ‘Are we stopping them enough? Are we stopping them and giving our offense a chance to score more? Are we stopping them in the red zone? Are we getting off the field on third down?' And at the end of the day, do we have more points than they do?

"You start looking at football teams as a total -- offense, defense, kicking game. Defensively, I always look at scoring defense, and I always look at wins and losses. Also important is how well a team does on third down, and how well they do in the red zone. I spend a lot of time looking at those things when I am getting ready to prepare for spring practice."

The task ahead for defensive improvement may well include getting better at end-of-game situations, but there are other defensive goals that Withers sees as just as important, if not more so.

"We want to do a better job of rushing the passer," he said. "We were not as good on third down and in the red zone this year. That's two things this offseason -- we're going to spend a bunch of time trying to find out how to be better getting off the field on third down and better in the red zone. I think that will come with being faster and being more physical and some of the things we want to do on defense.

"As coaches, we have to do a better job and I have to do a better job of helping us on third downs with better rush plans. I think I could do a better job of that. We have to find a way to get our best pass rushers on the field on third down, I think that is something where as a staff we need to do a better job."

"For us to take the next step, we've got to tackle those things in the offseason."

Did you miss Inside Carolina's series on offensive coordinator John Shoop last week? Catch up on all five segments:
Part I: Acclimation, Part II: Game Planning, Part III: Play Calling, Part IV: Strategy, Part V: QB Growth.

For much more from both Withers and Shoop, be sure to read Buck Sanders' "Offseason Report" in the March Issue of the Inside Carolina Magazine.

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