Heels Excelling In Special Teams

Heels Excelling In Special Teams

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – While North Carolina played well all over the field during Saturday's 33-27 victory over Miami, the special teams unit stood out by making key plays at crucial times. After reviewing the game tape, head coach Butch Davis shared his opinions during his Sunday teleconference.

"When you're fortunate enough to win, it's almost always a team effort and a team victory," Davis said. "All three phases made a significant contribution to our opportunity to win the game. Miami's such a good football team and they have so much talent and so much speed."

Football coaches often talk about hidden statistics such as starting field position, and that number was a serious concern heading into the matchup against the track star-type speed that the Hurricanes utilize at the kickoff and punt returner spots.

"Terrence Brown's 49-yard average on punts really helped us, especially the one where we got them tackled down inside the five-yard line," Davis said. "We knew that you just don't want to play short-field football with someone that's got the explosiveness that Miami did."

None of Brown's punts were as important as his third kick of the day – with UNC's lead down to 27-20 in the third quarter, the junior college transfer boomed a 56-yarder which rolled to the Miami 23-yard line, leading to a momentum shift as the Tar Heel defense forced a three-and-out on the next series.

Miami's starting field position in the first half was its own 30-yard line, while the second half average was its own 36 – a number skewed by Anthony Elzy's fumble that gave the Hurricanes possession on the North Carolina 30 yard-line.

North Carolina's average field position in three of the four quarters was beyond it's 35-yard line, thanks in part to a Quan Sturdivant blocked punt that resulted in a touchdown in the second period to put the Heels up 20-0.

Brown was not the only standout kicker on Saturday, as Connor Barth added to his legend against Miami by connecting on all four of his field goal attempts. Not only were the four makes the most in a game during his career, but he also set a UNC record with 19 consecutive field goals made – three more than the previous record holder.

"We got just a phenomenal performance from Connor Barth," Davis said. "The four field goals, [and] the two kickoffs he had that were touchbacks in the end zone that they didn't get a chance to return. And one that had great hang time [so] that we were able to tackle them inside the 10-yard line."

Barth also used a sky kick to force a Miami fair catch early in the contest, a strategy that Davis said helps to keep the opposing return unit on their toes. The first-year UNC head coach expanded on the strategy for mixing up Barth's kicks, indicating that opposing return men and the weather were factors in the decision-making.

"Three of his kickoffs that were the best kicks were the ones back to the closed end zone," Davis said. "… Kicking the other way, we guesstimated before the game started that there was probably somewhere in the neighborhood of five to maybe eight yards difference in the wind."

And it's basically impossible to write an article on North Carolina's special teams play without mentioning the quintessential playmaker – Brandon Tate.

The Burlington, N.C. native has nine career touchdowns following Saturday's 54-yard reverse (three kickoff return, three receiving, two punt return, one rushing).

"He's a very gifted athlete – he has excellent hands," Davis said. "Anytime that you're a punt returner and a kick returner, I think it says an awful lot about your courage. It's very difficult to play back there with absolutely everybody bearing down on you, pursuing to chase the football. It takes an awful lot of focus and concentration to catch the football.

"And I really like the way that he's working… Yesterday, he was basically responsible for 223 yards of some form or fashion of offense – either catches, kickoff returns [or] punt returns – and 223 yards is good enough to earn your scholarship."

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