Defense Helps Build Tar Heels Into Winner
Eighty, as in the number of points the Tar Heels scored in Saturday’s 80-20 win over Old Dominion, is remarkable to be sure.
Another number associated with the Tar Heels, 90, might be even more impressive, however. It’s the total points the team has allowed in its last five games, all wins, as UNC climbed back into the bowl game picture.
If the Tar Heels can top a revived Duke squad Saturday, no mean feat, the Tar Heels can also boast a winning record at 7-5. That’s almost unfathomable for a team that started the season 1-5, though as UNC’s defense has stiffened the wins have suddenly piled up.
The Tar Heels success has been much to the pleasure, if not the surprise of, head coach Larry Fedora. He didn’t bother trying to low-key his team’s terrific performance, which lifted UNC to 6-5 overall.
“Going into that game, I believe [Old Dominion] had punted 24 total times in 11 football games – we forced 10 punts in that game the other day. There were just a lot of great things, too many to really single out,” Fedora says.
Many aspects of the Tar Heel “D” deserve credit, including cornerback Brian Walker. The freshman led a unit that limited ODU quarterback Taylor Heinicke to a 14 of 31 passing effort, good for just 130 yards and a touchdown.
“Brian is another one of those true freshmen who has just gotten better every week. Now [Coach Dan] Disch is very comfortable throwing him out there in any situation. That is always a little bit of a scary situation when you put a guy out there at corner, because everybody sees if he makes a mistake. I think Dan has complete confidence in what Brian can do. Brian has no fear; he doesn’t mind getting up in your face and playing you.
“He’s one of those guys who has got the right mentality as a corner. He’s got that short-term memory – he doesn’t worry about one play to the next. He’s playing the play that he’s got, and if something bad happens he understands that it’s just part of the business and he moves on to the next play. He really played well. He had some really bright spots in the game – he was all over the receivers,” Fedora said.
Walker’s play, along with the stellar coverage by his teammates, made life miserable for Heinicke, whom his coach compared to the Saints great signal-caller Drew Brees. That may be a bit lofty, but Heinicke was FCS offensive player of the year in 2012 with 25 touchdown passes to just one interception.
Things don’t get much easier for the Tar Heels this week, with Duke’s Anthony Boone behind center. After struggling with four picks in a 13-10 win over Virginia Tech, Boone has completed 48 of 65 passes for 499 yards and had three scoring strikes in Saturday’s conquest of Wake Forest.
Boone also has an 8-0 mark to be proud of, his record as the Blue Devils’ starting signal-caller, including seven wins on this campaign. Strong fourth quarters, with a 110-34 advantage for the Blue Devils in the stanza, has been a key to their success.
“We are a 3 ½ hour team,” Boone says of Duke, a top-25 team that has won nine games for the first time since 1941. “We put more steam into the second half. No matter what happens in the first half, we come out ready to play in the second half.”
Fedora, meanwhile, says staying positive and not looking too far ahead has been the focus of his team, and the approach has obviously worked for the Tar Heels.
“If we continue to get a little bit better, if we continue to believe and hold this team together, if they keep working hard and have good attitudes, there is no doubt in my mind. That’s what they’ve done. We’ve focused on being 1-0 each week, giving one more inch. They’ve found a way, whatever it takes. That will be our entire focus again this week,” Fedora says.