Heels Catching Their Breath

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – North Carolina's offense and defense may appear on different ends of the statistical rankings spectrum, but both units are approaching this bye week as an opportunity to get healthy and work out the kinks.

Everett Withers' defensive squad leads the ACC in five statistical categories (total defense, scoring defense, pass defense, pass efficiency defense and tackles for loss), while holding down the No. 2 spot in two categories (rushing defense and sacks). On the other side of the field, John Shoop's offense holds down the cellar spot in both total offense and scoring offense, while ranking 10th or 11th in three other categories (rushing offense, passing offense, passing efficiency).

But regardless of what the numbers may suggest, all three phases of North Carolina's program are taking advantage of the midseason bye week to regroup and reenergize.

When starting quarterback T.J. Yates was asked on Tuesday afternoon if this downtime could have come at a better time, he replied, "I don't think so. We've got a lot of guys that really need the rest. I think for this team, we really needed a couple of days off just to relax and take it easy for a little so that we can get back into it pretty hardcore the rest of the week."

The responses were eerily similar on the other side of the ball.

"I don't want to say it's a break, because it's not really a break – we're preparing for Florida State right now," free safety Deunta Williams said. "But your mind gets so caught up during the season, so it's good to catch up a little bit on your grades and all of that good stuff."

"It's definitely a little bit of time off," added defensive tackle Marvin Austin. "So you want to get back and get healthy, get stretched out and get your muscles basically back to how they were feeling at the beginning of the season. And then get a lot of film in."

There were 13 Tar Heels listed on the official injury report for the Georgia Southern contest. Add running backs A.J. Blue (knee) and Jamal Womble (wrist) to that group, and it's easy to understand why a midseason break is a blessing, if not a must. Twelve of the 15 injured belong to the offensive side of the ball, which helps explain some of Shoop's struggles through six games.

Yates indicated that the offense would take some time this week to self-scout, focusing on the first half of the season and seeing what his team's tendencies have been and what changes need to be made. During a traditional game week, there are simply not enough hours available for the players to dedicate a significant chunk of time to that activity, so the hope is that this week's review will help increase production.

The same goes for the defense. Austin spent several hours on Monday watching the defense's cutups from the past six weeks, and suggested that his group needs to play faster, be more consistent and chase the ball on every snap to be more effective down the stretch.

The Washington, D.C. junior paid special attention to his own performance thus far.

"I looked at some of the things that I can do better," Austin said. "I feel like I can get better with my hands, play with my pads lower and get off the ball a lot quicker."

There was some relief on both sides of the ball that a potential winning formula emerged during Saturday's 42-12 victory over Georgia Southern. As stout as this UNC defense has been in the first half of the season, its inability to force turnovers has often put Yates and Co. in a position of needing to churn out long drives in order to put points on the scoreboard.

That approach has yielded minimal success, save for two fourth-quarter drives against Connecticut in East Hartford. But on Saturday, the Tar Heel defense forced six turnovers, scored two touchdowns and delivered two short-field situations for the offense that resulted in two more touchdowns.

Asking this offense to drive 80 yards is a tall order, but converting inside of 50 yards is a different story. That line of attack is critical if UNC expects to make a serious run at a decent bowl appearance.

But these Tar Heels aren't quite ready to give up on their preseason goals of earning a spot in the ACC title game.

"I think it's still up in the air," Austin said. "I don't really look at the standings and the rankings. I just take it game-by-game and whoever lines up in front of me, I just try to dominate them."

North Carolina returns to action on Oct. 22, when Florida State arrives in Chapel Hill for the program's first-ever Thursday night game.

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