Coming into the game, Wake Forest had the 24th-ranked passing attack in the nation, averaging 285 passing yards per game, going against a Tar Heel defense that ranked 90th in the nation in pass defense efficiency. On paper it looked like a complete mismatch, and it was - just in the opposite direction, as the Tar Heels smothered the Deacons' passing game.
How do the Tar Heels account for the change?
“We had a little meeting, no coaches allowed,” Zach Brown said. “We got on ourselves about certain things and passing (defense) was one of them, to stop the pass attack, and that’s what we did today.”
Whatever the Heels did, it worked. They gave up 121 rushing yards, but that’s not been their problem – defending good passing games has been, and Saturday marked a major step forward for UNC’s pass defense.
The Tar Heels held Wake Forest quarterback Tanner Price to 17 completions on 29 attempts for 146 yards, picking off the signal caller three times. The Heels would add one more pick against wide receiver Michael Campanaro, who made a pass attempt on a trick play.
“Secondary play entails a lot of things,” interim head coach Everett Withers said. “Pass rush, contain the quarterback, pressure the quarterback, lot of things. I look at the entire defense when you start talking about secondary play and I believe those guys continue to get better.”
To Coach Withers' point, two members of the secondary came up with picks, but a linebacker and a defensive lineman also had an interception.
Tackle Tydreke Powell recorded his first interception at any level – by fighting off another Tar Heel for the ball.
“Sylvester (Williams) at ECU, he had a pick, and he’s my roommate,” Powell said. “He’s always, ‘I got a pick,' and this and that, so when I saw Zach’s hands, I could have just let it go, but I wanted one so bad – it’s a great feeling.”
Brown laughed as he recalled the play.
“I was supposed to be blitzing, and I blitzed and got caught up with the center,” Brown said. “I came out of it and saw the ball in the air, and I tried to jump up with one hand and catch it, and Lord, here comes Tydreke Powell over the top of me. I thought it was Wake Forest for a second, because all I saw was white gloves, he kind of shoved me.”
Powell added, “Soon (Zach) got (an interception), and came and reminded me, ‘I got it back.'
Charles Brown had his first interception of the year – his first since the Duke game of 2009 - picking off a Price pass in the second quarter. Safety Tre Boston had the fourth pick of the game.
Including a fumble recovery and the four interceptions, the Tar Heels scored 28 points off the Deacons' turnovers.
“We always talk about turnovers, getting turnovers, and whoever wins the turnover battle will come out with a pretty good chance to win the game,” Powell said.
This was the type of defense many expected to see from the Tar Heels from the start of the season. For perhaps the first time this season, the entire defense was on the same page, and it showed on the field. This was a good Wake Forest offense, and the Tar Heels held them to 331 total yards. It wasn’t a perfect performance, but against a good ACC offense, it was their best defensive showing of the season.
“We talked about commitment to each other, and I think the guys committed to each other,” Withers said. “We didn’t play a totally clean ballgame today. I think we’ve got some things we can correct and get better on. I’m really proud of this football team.”