Fourth and Long
As they reach the meat of their schedule, The Tar Heels stand at 5-1 with their lone loss a seven-point defeat at the hands of undefeated and 12th ranked Georgia Tech.
This would imply that Carolina may be as good as almost any team in the country, however, there is a reason they have yet to crack the top 25 this season.
The defense is giving up almost six yards per play over the last few weeks and while some of that may be skewed by the game against Georgia Tech it is undeniable that Louisville, East Carolina and Virginia all moved the ball far too easily against such a talented defense.
I have attributed much of the defensive struggles to two significant factors.
First and foremost is a struggling secondary. The Tar Heels went into the season without a lot of depth or experience at cornerback and an injury to Jabari Price has wreaked further havoc at the position. Filling in for Price thus far has been fellow Floridian Tre Boston.
Boston played well at corner last year, however, at the request of his coaches Boston added 15 pounds over the off season and made the switch from cornerback to strong safety. When Price became injured the coaches again asked him to switch positions and Boston made the move back to corner.
Boston has struggled back at corner (15 pounds makes a lot of difference when covering wide receivers) and opposing offensive coordinators and quarterbacks have picked on him from time to time this year.
Price has returned from injury and Boston has made the move back to safety yet again.
Boston has shown the ability to play a much more aggressive style of defense when he faces the ball and Price’s potential as a lockdown corner is limitless. Both have all the physical tools to excel at their current positions and have shown the attitude and aptitude to continue to develop both physically and mentally.
The quicker these they reacclimate themselves to their respective positions the sooner UNC can stop playing so much zone coverage and start utilizing all the tools at their disposal defensively. This should allow the defensive line and linebackers to apply more pressure on the quarterback and create opportunities for more takeaways.
The other factor I attribute to Carolina’s defensive struggles has been the transition from Everett Withers to Art Kaufman as Carolina’s defensive coordinator. While Kaufman and Withers have worked closely together over the last three years, they are not the same coach.
While all signs out of Chapel Hill indicate that there has not been a major shift in defensive philosophy since the coaching adjustments there have been some changes in play calling. It takes time for play callers and players to really trust in each other and until they do the defense will not reach its full potential.
There has been a lot of talk this year about how much future NFL talent there is on UNC’s roster. With Miami and Clemson next up on the schedules the time has come for Carolina to take the next step, or as we say in the south, it’s time to put up or shut up….nuf’ said.
David Friedman is a long-time contributor to Roanoke-Chowan Publishing. A Bertie High School graduate, he and his wife currently reside in Wilmington. David can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.