One week after missing 24 defensive assignments against Wake Forest, the Tar Heels committed 18 blunders in the first half alone at Louisville. What’s intriguing – and what has fueled speculation as to this coaching staff’s ability to make quality halftime adjustments – is that UNC missed just two defensive assignments in the second half at Papa John’s Stadium.
The evidence backs up that speculation. North Carolina’s first three opponents combined to average 111.7 yards on 34 plays in the second half, good for a 3.3-yards-per-play mark. Only four of those 20 drives exceeded 25 yards, while only two went for 50 yards or more.
Most importantly, UNC’s defense has only given up 10 points in the second half this season.
On Wednesday, however, senior linebacker Kevin Reddick wanted to clear one thing up about the halftime locker room adjustments, or lack thereof, at Louisville.
“There was no big-time speech,” Reddick said. “It was nothing. It was just Coach [Larry Fedora] and the players and all he said was let’s go. You’ve got the second half to ball. Let’s go. That was it. We’ve just got to execute.”
While the coaching staff did simplify the game plan at halftime, according to junior defensive end Kareem Martin, intensity woes plagued the team’s effort and concentration early.
“When you don’t play with the right amount of energy and enthusiasm and excitement and play the game the way it’s supposed to be played, somebody is going to make a mistake,” Fedora said earlier this week. “Something is going to happen and the next play somebody else is going to make a mistake and it just snowballs and that’s what was happening. It wasn’t one guy that made all the mistakes.”
Part of the problem the last two weeks has been the defense’s inability to work into the flow of the game and understand what the opposing offense is attempting to do.
“I feel like we really didn’t figure out our opponent until later on in the half and then into the second half,” Martin said. “So I think we have to get a better feel for them early on so that we can make adjustments on the sideline instead of waiting until halftime to make full adjustments.”
Player-coach communication between series is critical in addressing questions and confusion.
“We get them on the sideline and we go over the plays that caused us problems,” defensive coordinator Dan Disch said on Wednesday. “If there is something they’re not sure of, we’ll draw it up. The thing is that the offense doesn’t always come back to the play that caused you problem.”
Disch agreed with Reddick’s comments about the halftime situation. There was no Knute Rockne speech, no magic pills handed out.
“I wish I could put my fingers on it a little bit,” Disch said. “I think settling the kids down. For me, it’s all playing with more intensity. In both halves, we’ve come out and played with a little more intensity, played harder, and then things tend to happen good for you. We’ve got to come out of the blocks and make something happen. I think the kids – and we’ve done the same thing as coaches – we’ve waited for things to happen. We’ve got to go make things happen.”
As for the 18 missed assignments in the first half, Disch offered the analogy of a teacher that gives a test and everyone fails. The onus falls on the teacher, not the entire group of students.
“When things feel like they’re in a crisis situation, you’ve got to get 11 guys to do their job and not have this guy bust this time [and so on],” Disch said. “That’s our job as coaches to settle them down and get them to do their job and make them understand it. That’s a growing process and a learning process and I think we’ll get better at that.”
The Tar Heels, at least, are saying the right things this week regarding increased intensity and better preparation.
“It starts on Tuesday,” defensive tackle Sylvester Williams said. “Monday you take the day off and get your legs back. On Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, you’ve got to come to work mentally and physically and get ready to play. I think we did it this week…
“We’ve got to turn our season back around. It’s still early in the year and we’ve got a lot to prove. None of our goals have changed, so we’ve just got to get back on track.”
North Carolina is a 17-point favorite on Saturday against East Carolina, but that line means little to nothing if the Tar Heel defense are unable to cure their performance equation with volatile variables, otherwise known as intensity and execution.
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