“You’ve got to give a lot of props to our defense, the way they played in the second half, any time you’re going to get seven sacks, you hold somebody to 230 yards total offense,” Fedora said. They did a tremendous job and they kept them out of the end zone the entire day.”
Those seven sacks were the most since UNC played Wake Forest 12 years ago. They came from all directions, from a variety of players, as a result of blitzes, three- and four-man rush packages, and strong coverage.
“There were some coverage sacks, no doubt about it, Fedora said. “Especially when you rush three guys and you still get sacks, that’s a heck of a job first of all by the coverage, and second for those three guys up front fighting their rear ends off to get to the quarterback. “
Fedora wasn’t alone in his praise for his defense. East Carolina head coach Ruffin McNeill followed suit.
“They did a good job of being able to get pressure with four and defend,” McNeill said of the UNC attack. “If you can do that against any offense and leave seven in coverage you’re going to be good. I saw them blitz some and get to us a little bit.”
The sack that might have had the biggest impact came when the UNC staff dialed up a “Cowboy” blitz, bringing cornerback Jabari Price off the edge.
“It was very exciting, I’ve never had a sack before in my life,” Price said. “When they called the blitz, I am like, ‘It’s all or nothing, if I don’t do it now, he may never call it again.’”
The sack by Price seemed to be the chum in the water for the feeding frenzy that was to come.
“(Price’s) sack gave us momentum, and we just wanted to get going and come out with a fire,” said Darien Rankin, who was making his first start in the secondary.
Every position group -- the defensive line, the linebackers, and the secondary -- produced at least one sack, and eight players in all contributed to the sack total.
“We had a lot of guys get sacks too, it wasn’t just one guy, there were a lot of guys that got their first sacks of the year,” Fedora said. “It’s kind of like a feeding frenzy for sharks, when there is blood in the water they start coming from everywhere.
The Tar Heel defense was particularly stout yet again in the second half, holding the Pirates scoreless. No opponent has scored on the Tar Heels in the third quarter this year, and UNC has held opponents to a combined 10 second-half points in its four contests.
The first half, however, saw the Tar Heels hold the Pirates to field goals after long drives. It wasn’t as flashy as their second half effort, but was an important factor in the outcome.
“In the first half, you think maybe it wasn’t there,” Fedora said, “But you go back and you really get a feel for it. Yeah, they picked up some first downs so that makes it tough, but our guys, when they got in the red zone, they stood up. They didn’t let them get in the end zone and that’s what it’s all about.”
The UNC players agreed.
“That was real big,” Kareem Martin said, who was in on a sack and added a tackle-for-loss. “Since I’ve been here we’ve always been a good red zone team. When you get down there you got to bow up. There are only a few plays they can run, and it’s just real football then, you’ve just got to attack.”
Added senior defensive leader Kevin Reddick ,“Any defense doesn’t want to give up touchdowns. If you can hold them to a field goal, every drive they have, every opportunity they have to score, that’s great for the defense. Holding them to field goals kept our momentum going.”
Though the first half wasn’t a perfect defensive effort, it was solid enough to build on, which allowed the second-half feeding frenzy to commence.