One of the first questions UNC head coach Larry Fedora fielded in his postgame press conference pertained to his team’s inability to stop the run.
“That’s a good question,” Fedora said. “From my standpoint, I don’t know. Where I’m standing, obviously we got somebody out of position or out of a gap or either we just can’t get off a block.”
The Blue Devils came into the game averaging 111.1 rushing yards per game, good for 104th nationally. Against the Tar Heels, however, Duke surpassed their season high by 52 yards in churning out 234 yards on 53 carries.
It marked the highest rushing total for Duke under head coach David Cutcliffe.
Josh Snead lead the Blue Devils with 99 yards on 15 carries, while Jela Duncan (74 yards, TD) and Juwan Thompson (64 yards) rounded out Duke’s potent ground game.
Fedora asked how many times Duke ran the ball, and upon hearing that the answer was 53, he said: “I’d say probably 50 of them gave us trouble.”
“They just ran it right at us,” he continued. “They didn’t do anything special. They ran the split zone and ran the power and they just ran it right at us. We just didn’t do a very good job.”
That was an unexpected result for a UNC run defense that was allowing 99.7 yards per game (14th nationally).
Duke’s first four rushes yielded just 10 yards, but its fifth run netted 13 yards and a 1st-and-goal at two. Anthony Boone powered in for the touchdown on the next play.
“They did an awesome job today trying to run on us,” middle lineback Kevin Reddick said. “[We] just didn’t make the right fits as a defense. It was a safety or a corner or a linebacker – somebody had to be there on the backside. That’s what they did, just cut it back on us a lot.”
Reddick told reporters that UNC practiced defending the run to the front side, so when Duke took advantage by cutting back, a halftime adjustment was made to correct the problem. A defender was moved up into the backside gap, which helps to explain Tre Boston’s 17 tackles.
The adjustment didn’t yield any better results. Duke ran 28 times for 119 yards in the first half and 25 times for 115 yards in the second half.
Fedora indicated that he would have to watch the film when asked if poor tackling played a role, but added, “It didn’t look like to me that there was anybody touching the guy until he was at the second or third level, so I don’t know if that’s poor tackling.”
Fedora admitted that he was “surprised” at the Blue Devils’ ability to run the ball as effectively as they did.
“We go into every game planning on stopping the run and making a team one dimensional,” Fedora said. “So that was very disappointing, yes.”
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