The Tar Heels' defense has been the point of frustration once again for fans, something that they were hoping would finally be put behind them with the return of Gene Chizik to Chapel Hill. Instead, things have proved more challenging out of the gate than Chizik’s first tenure despite having more talent in place. This past weekend, the unit showed some signs of hope, but still had their issues slowing down another non-Power 5 opponent. As the team prepares to turn up the level of competition out of the bye week, here are the three things that we think this team must do to become a unit that can be counted on.
Limit the Big Plays
This was one of the main focuses of Chizik and co-defensive coordinator Charlton Warren when they took over this offseason, but it has been a struggle for this group so far this season. The team has allowed at least nine big plays (15+ yard pass play, 10+ yard run play) in each of the first nine games and it is a big part of the reason why the opponents have been able to move the ball on this Tar Heel defense so far this season. Last week was a step in the right direction after allowing 22 big plays against Appalachian State, but Georgia State still hit two long touchdown pass that allowed them to take the lead. Ultimately, limiting these plays starts up front where the team simply has to be able to get more consistent pressure on the quarterback. After registering 23 total pressures in the game against Florida A&M in Week 0, the team has combined for 23 total pressure in each of the last two weeks, something that is concerning with some of the offensive lines that the group will face starting next weekend. The defensive backs have to step up, as well, and get back to being a unit that can be trusted in coverage, something they haven’t proven so far early on this season.
Need Communication to Start Improving
One of the reasons that this secondary hasn’t been able to be trusted so far this season is because of the communication issues that the team is still dealing with from a year ago. This has been another one of the primary reasons that the unit has let up so many big plays in the passing game. With a zone heavy approach for Chizik, this unit has to find a way to be able to pass of pass catchers in a much smoother fashion than they have so far. These communication issues were a big part of the issues for this group a year ago and with many of the same players in same role that they had a year, our suggestion might be the best way to address it.
Give Younger Depth Players a Chance to Play and Maybe Even Start
Outside of a handful of guys, this unit should have open competition for starting jobs and reps heading into Saturday’s game with Notre Dame. The linebacker trio of Power Echols, Cedric Gray and Noah Taylor have earned their starting roles and Kaimon Rucker has shown enough to earn the power end starting role right now. Battles should be going on elsewhere along the defensive line, where guys like Myles Murphy and Raymond Vohasek have been out performed by some of the young backups behind them so far. In the secondary, the staff has to find some solutions to the unprecedented challenges that this group has run into so far this season. With the depth that they have, especially at corner, they have to start throwing other guys out there instead of just letting guys like Storm Duck and Cam’Ron Kelly continue to get picked on week after week. We were told this offseason this offseason that this was the deepest team that has been on campus since Mack Brown’s return. With the struggles of many of the veteran starters, it’s time to give some of that young talent the chance to prove themselves.