A cornerback's top priority is the pass unless, of course, he's called on to stop the run (a tongue-in-cheek way of saying, defensively, a CB is pretty much expected to do everything). Sophomore Durant is a threat both to run and throw, which means CBs Nathan Vasher and Rod Babers' ability to contain the run and defend the pass will be critical to Texas' defensive success.
Think of Durant as the ACC's other quarterback. While helping establish the North Carolina single season touchdown record (25) as a freshman, the 5'11", 226-pounder finished second to Florida State's Chris Rix as the conference Rookie of the Year. Durant's 17 touchdown tosses last season is the third best total by a freshman in ACC history.
Despite his considerable playing time as a freshman and noteworthy individual stats, Durant is 1-3 as a starter. He surrendered his starting spot last spring after opting to transfer schools, but then reversed field by re-committing to Carolina on April 1. He regained the top spot just before the opening game.
Durant engineered last week's come-from-behind 30-22 win at Syracuse Saturday and is now completing nearly 61 percent of his passes.
FS Dexter Reid vs. WR Roy Williams
Reid would be a stud on this team even if it had not lost eight defensive starters. The 6'0", 187-pound junior is North Carolina's top returning tackler (99 tackles, 67 unassisted). Reid was named the ACC's Defensive Back of the Week for his 21 tackle (13 solo) performance (a telling stat for a free safety) against Miami (Ohio). He totaled 14 takedowns against the Orangemen. Reid is the only defender North Carolina has who has a chance to keep up with Roy Williams, and if a re-energized Texas offensive line emerges as expected, there will be times when Reid will be the only man in blue standing between Cedric Benson and the end zone. Still, Reid gives up four inches to Williams, who will be lusting for fade routes when Texas is inside the red zone.
WR Sam Aiken vs. (nickel, zone) defense
Aiken, a 6'2", 205-pound senior, led the Heels in receptions (46 for 789 yards) and all purpose yards (974, including 105 yards on kickoff-returns and 79 yards in punt returns) last season. This year, Aiken is contributing 132.5 yards per game and has 13 grabs on the young season, on pace to become one of the top three reception leaders in North Carolina history. Aiken's 174 receiving yards against Miami, Ohio is a career best and fourth highest in UNC history.
The nickel defense is tailor-made for guys like Aiken, who are both a deep-threat and are willing to "take one for the team" by going over the middle in effort to create mismatches against linebackers. Still, Texas defensive coordinator Carl Reese said he intends to use a lot more zone on Saturday in order to offset the deep ball and to "keep (Durant) guessing."
North Carolina defensive line vs. Texas offensive line
Both lines are re-tooled this season, replacing three starters and looking to flex its collective muscle after opening to disappointing reviews. North Carolina's line was thinned even further two weeks ago when starting defensive tackle Eric Davis tore his ACL against Miami (Ohio) Davis is lost for the season.
North Carolina punt team vs. Nathan Vasher
While Carolina lauds Aiken's for his 79 yards in punt returns last season, they have yet (this season) to see the likes of Vasher, who can exceed that stat in one attempt. An unrepentant trash-talker on the field; humble and self-effacing with reporters, Vasher insisted that -- after his 123 yard performance on just four returns in UT's opener vs. North Texas -- it was a team effort and he was but one man trying not to lose yards. With a young offensive line needing a boost, the field position and momentum shifts that Vasher can supply will be crucial to the Texas offense (particularly one that could not move the ball against UNT when spotted on the opponent's 20 yard line). While a long, sustained scoring drive would do wonders for this unit, it'll take the shortened field that Vasher (and company) can supply.