Boston’s interception inspired UNC defense
Vic Koenning, North Carolina’s associate coach for defense, joked during training camp that he gives senior Tre Boston “four to five butt-chewings” a day.
The talented free safety led UNC in tackles a year ago and made the 2013 preseason All-ACC team, but mental mistakes and a lack of focus too often led to big plays for opponents.
After the Tar Heels defeated Middle Tennessee 40-20 on Saturday, the interaction was all positive. Boston had set the tone with a jumping, one-handed interception in UNC’s end zone on the first drive of the game.
“Coach came up for me after the game and told me it was a game-changer,” Boston said. “I’m a senior and I’m supposed to make plays, and to be able to do it and help my team, it feels great. Me and Coach Vic have a love-hate relationship, but it’s more love than people think it is.”
As much as the Tar Heels talk about the advantage of playing in Kenan Stadium, it wasn’t a very threatening place for opposing offenses last year — UNC allowed 34, 35, 68 and 38 points in its final four 2012 games there.
Middle Tennessee looked to keep that trend going with its first possession. The Blue Raiders went 74 yards to inside the 1-yard line and initially appeared to have scored before a replay reversal took the points off the board.
Then Boston switched the momentum with his interception. The Tar Heels scored touchdowns on their first two drives, and the defense allowed just 21 yards on Middle Tennessee’s next five possessions.
“That stop at the goal line was the biggest play, even though it was early in the game, because it just got us so energized,” senior defensive end Kareem Martin said. “Everyone was just flying around from then on. It just set the tone for the defense.”
Boston’s catch was one of three interceptions for a unit that picked off 16 passes a year ago (20th in the nation) but failed to force a turnover in the season opener against South Carolina.
Still, it wasn’t a cure-all for a defense that still has a lot to prove heading into its Sept. 21 game at Georgia Tech, which put up the 68 last season.
“There were definitely some good points in the game, but we definitely have a lot of stuff we still need to work on,” Martin said. “The first drive, they came out and drove the ball down the field. That’s something we can’t have. We have to set the tone early, and that wasn’t the right way to set it.
“We got the energy back when we stopped them, but we definitely have to come out harder than what we did.”
NOTES — Senior left tackle James Hurst was named the ACC’s offensive lineman of the week on Monday after he didn’t allowing a sack or a quarterback pressure in 80 snaps against Middle Tennessee. The 6-7, 305-pound senior from Plainfield, Ind., graded out at 92 percent and posted 12 knockdown blocks, one week after containing South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. ... UNC’s conference opener at Georgia Tech on Sept. 21 will kick off at noon, the league announced Monday. But don’t set the DVR just yet — the network (ESPN, ESPN2 or ESPNU) won’t be determined until this coming Monday.