No, the shutout didn’t come against an ACC opponent, or a top 25 team -- it came against clearly outmatched Elon, which left Kenan Stadium beaten 62-0 on the scoreboard and in just about every other way possible.
Head coach Larry Fedora didn’t seem to mind who the opponent was.
“It is hard to get a shutout against air these days,” Fedora said.
It also came as North Carolina kept it vanilla on both sides of the ball, according to the coach.
“We were as simple as we could possibly be,” he added.
Interestingly, the Tar Heel defense was able to hold Elon scoreless, despite losing the time of possession battle 34:06 to 25:54.
It also held Elon scoreless despite playing lots of new players – even early in the game. True freshman Shakeel Rashad appears to be a regular in UNC’s “nickel” defense. Admittedly this gets confusing because Gene Robinson already seems to be a “nickel back” permanently inserted, but in obvious passing situations Pete Mangum joins Robinson on the field, along with Rashad and linebacker P.J. Clyburn, getting more speed on the field.
Jessie Rogers, another true freshman, also saw the field early, and it appeared that the defensive line changed with every Elon snap.
“Coach wanted to get a lot of the young guys in to get their feet wet,” Sylvester Williams said. “We’ve got a lot of guys on the defensive line that have never played a college snap, and some that may have played 20 last year, so the biggest thing coach wanted was to let everyone get out there and get their feet wet.”
A lot of guys on the defensive line did get their feet wet. On the second series ran by Elon, Jessie Rogers, Ethan Farmer, and Tim Jackson (who was playing a new position) comprised the defensive line.
As the game went on, other players throughout the defense saw their first action, including Alex Dixon, T.J. Jiles, and Malik Simmons at corner, and Ryan Mangum and Darien Rankin at safety.
“Alex Dixon is a hitter,” said Jabari Price, who recorded an interception. “ That’s something you’ve got to be on the boundary, physical. (Malik) Simmons and T.J. Jiles came in, jumped on the playbook, they knew they wanted to play early, and they took that and ran with it.”
Tommy Heffernan played a number of snaps at linebacker throughout the game, and if you didn’t have a roster handy, you were lost by the middle of the third quarter.
During the first half, when fewer of the second and third team defenders were on the field, North Carolina held Elon to 2.55 yards per play.
The defensive effort had everything – big plays, like a tipped pass from Williams (which resulted in Price’s pick), an excellent break on the ball by Tim Scott for a pick, two sacks by Sylvester Williams, and 11 tackles-for-loss, including two by Shakeel Rashad. The defensive unit was consistent as well, giving up only three rushing plays of more than ten yards; the longest Elon run was 16 yards.
As simple as the Tar Heels’ schemes were, as many players as they played, a shutout is something to be relished, regardless of the opponent. After all, as a defense, you can’t do any better than zero points.