Defensive Breakthrough

Scott

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – North Carolina's defense has shown improvement, albeit in losses, in the weeks since the East Carolina debacle. On Saturday, the Tar Heels allowed Boston College just five snaps inside UNC territory before garbage time.

The final statistics, for this 2013 Tar Heel defense, were staggering.

Boston College finished with 261 yards of total offense, roughly 90 yards less than its season average. The Eagles were limited to 59 passing yards, which is the fewest allowed by UNC since the Mack Brown era (Clemson '97).

Most importantly, Boston College did not run a play inside UNC's 35-yard line until its final four plays of the game and did not make one trip into the red zone.

The Tar Heels were even better in the second half. For the second time in three games, UNC held its opponent to less than 100 yards after halftime. Three weeks after holding Virginia Tech to 64 yards on 27 plays, UNC held Boston College to 92 yards on 30 plays in the second half.

The lone positive came in the form of Andre Williams, who ran for 172 yards on 26 carries, including a 56-yard touchdown run to give Boston College a 7-6 lead in the first quarter.

The highlights ended on that run for the Eagles. The Tar Heels, on the other hand, were just getting started.

"I thought our defense did a really nice job against them," UNC head coach Larry Fedora told reporters following the game. "We gave up the one run for 56 yards there that hurt us, but other than that they got after it. They really did a nice job. We knew we would not hold them to 50 yards rushing because they've got a good running back and they're going to run the football. Overall, when you hold somebody to [59] yards passing on 11 receptions, that's pretty dang good."

North Carolina entered Saturday's contest allowing its opponents to convert 45.8 percent of their third downs, good for 109th nationally. The Eagles, however, converted just 5-of-16 third-down conversions, including 3-of-9 opportunities after halftime.

Leading 20-7, UNC sacked quarterback Chase Rettig twice and hurried him once on Boston College's opening three possessions of the second half. The Tar Heels scored on their next possession to build a comfortable 20-point lead with 15 seconds to play in the third quarter.

Fedora credited senior defensive end Kareem Martin (5 tkl, 2 sacks) with sparking UNC's pressure up front.

"He's been the most consistent guy for us all year but in the last two games he's really coming on hard," Fedora said. "He knows his career here at the University of North Carolina is coming to an end and it's coming fast. I think he sees that and I think he's wanting to get everything he can out of it."

Martin wasn't the only Tar Heel applying pressure, though. Linebacker Travis Hughes and Bandit Mikey Bart also notched sacks, while the entire defensive front played a role in keeping Rettig (10-of-20, 57 yards) active in the pocket.

"Our [defensive backs] were able to cover long enough for us to get back there," Martin said. "I think the play calling and the constant pressure by every defensive lineman that was in the game at the time definitely helped us out."

There were two parts involved with the pressure, according to Fedora.

"Some of it was scheme," he said, "and some of it was just beating your man."

The scheme aspect was apparent in third-down passing situations as associate head coach for defense Vic Koenning inserted eight defensive backs into the lineup. While seven is not unusual for UNC this season, the eighth was a change due primarily to injuries up front.

Bandit Darius Lipford missed the game due to an undisclosed injury, while fellow Bandit Norkeithus Otis has been hampered with an ankle injury. Instead of removing speed from his speed package, Koenning elected to slide backup Ram Brandon Ellerbe into that role for obvious passing downs.

"It was to get more speed on the field as far as not having the drop off from Lipford or Otis," senior cornerback Jabari Price said. "Ellerbe was the next closest thing. He's got all of the intangibles to be great, so he fit right in and we didn't miss a beat on defense."

Nine days after allowing Miami to gain 556 total yards of offense, UNC sliced that amount by more than half.

When asked what the key was to making defensive stops against the Eagles, Price replied: "Desperation."

"The defense came out slow this season," he continued. "We were 1-5. We kind of showed that desperation in the Miami game, but we didn't finish. The guys know how thirsty we are for a win and they took that today and executed well."

Boston College's 10 points are the fewest allowed by UNC against an ACC opponent since UNC's 44-10 win at Virginia on Oct. 16, 2010.

 

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