After struggling against the run for much of the season, UNC's defense was stout against Maryland's senior running back duo of Keon Lattimore and Lance Bell.
"We played a complete game – in my opinion," senior defensive tackle Kentwan Balmer said. "We could always play better, but we did enough to win the game and that's good enough for me."
Heading into the game, Lattimore and Bell collectively averaged just under 120 yards a game. UNC was able to hold them under 100 yards Saturday, including allowing only 2 yards in the first quarter.
Being a run-oriented team, the lack of yardage on the ground caused Maryland's offense problems. Of Maryland's 13 official drives, only three were more than seven plays long and six failed to manage double digits in yards.
Defense Helps Win Close Game
In general, the defense played arguably its best game of the season and the performance started in the trenches.
"This is maybe the best defensive performance certainly that we've had from a standpoint of a lot of guys on defense really contributed," Butch Davis said. "It certainly started with the defensive front four and all the guys that played on the defensive line. Almost every possession somebody on the defensive line came up with a big play."
Greg Elleby had a big tackle-for-a-loss during a goal line stand that pushed Maryland back four yards. Balmer and Aleric Mullins contributed big sacks, while Marvin Austin, Hilee Taylor, and E.J. Wilson provided pressure on Maryland quarterback Chris Turner during crucial situations.
It was therefore fitting that the defense tied the bow on the victory with a fourth down stop late in the fourth quarter.
"We really kind of turned [the defensive line] loose and allowed them the freedom to just go ahead and rush," Davis said of the fourth-down stop. "It had more to do with the coverage aspect, we took away a lot of the short, intermediate [passes] because it was fourth-and-two and we made them hold the ball, hold the ball. [Their QB] looked to the sidelines, I think he thought maybe he had the receiver right on the boundary but with the pressure he put a little air under the ball and fortunately for us it went over the receiver's head."
Running Game Comes Alive
In UNC's tailback situation, which Butch Davis has compared to a pitching rotation, Johnny White started the game, while Anthony Elzy closed and earned the save.
"Some of the things we wanted to do against Maryland we felt like [White] did well," Davis said. "… As [Maryland] adjusted, they changed what was going to work. We had to change the types and styles of runs.
"Anthony is maybe just a little bit stronger, a little bit more powerful. Obviously, Johnny is a little bit quicker and can get to the second level on certain runs with certain cuts."
Elzy didn't receive his first carry until UNC's first play of the fourth quarter, but still managed to accumulate 37 yards. White averaged 5.1 yards a carry and came eight yards short of eclipsing the century mark.
Ryan Houston and Greg Little came in, in relief, during the first three quarters carrying the ball a combined three times.
Yates, Passing Game Struggling
After an amazing start to the season that earned him plenty of praise, redshirt freshman T.J. Yates and the passing game has sputtered to a degree. In UNC's first three games, Yates posted a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 9:3. Since then, he has tossed just three touchdowns to 11 interceptions.
"Early in the season, I don't think many people knew we were going to be chucking the ball deep as much as we did," Yates said. "Teams kind of caught on, got smart, started backing off a little bit.
"I think we've had some chances in the past few games – we've just got to hit them. Earlier in the season we were hitting them every single ‘shot play' we took. We've just got to keep working on it, because they're there."
With the running game's continued progression, which reached a high Saturday, a domino effect might help the passing game.
"It will help it out tremendously," Yates said. "Because you know [it] softens [the defense] up, and then you can pound the ball, pound the ball, pound the ball, and then go to a drop back pass or play action."
Turnover Bug Still Biting
Turnovers were definitely a part of Saturday's game, but they didn't have as much of a negative effect as in previous games.
Both of Yates' interceptions worked virtually like punts – both picks were tossed with the line-of-scrimmage in UNC territory and both gave Maryland possession deep in their own territory.
On Yates' first quarter fumble, Kyle Jolly stripped Erin Henderson to give UNC the ball back without the offense even leaving the field.
In all fairness, the second interception eventually resulted in three points for Maryland – although they had to drive 74 yards down the field – and the fumble pushed UNC's drive back 26 yards – but they still managed to put points on the board.
New Formation Added to the Defense
Last week against Wake Forest, Richie Rich made his debut in UNC's nickel package at the cornerback position opposite of Kendric Burney. Chuck Pagano added another wrinkle to the defense this week – a dime package variation.
From UNC's nickel formation, true freshmen Da'Norris Searcy subs into the strong safety position. Starting strong safety, Trimane Goddard, moves up into the box next to the lone linebacker on the field, Durell Mapp.
Four of those six defensive backs are of freshman eligibility.