Heels want better results vs. Yellow Jackets’ offense
Between the discipline needed to contain the triple-option offense and the cut blocking scheme that includes lineman diving at defenders’ legs, North Carolina senior safety Tre Boston said it’s natural to not be excited about facing Georgia Tech.
But Boston said there won’t be any lack of enthusiasm from his unit when the teams meet today in Atlanta (noon, ESPN) — not after the Yellow Jackets put up 68 points against the Tar Heels at Kenan Stadium a year ago.
“It fires up the ignition,” Boston said. “A lot of guys don’t want to play against the triple option. But what they did to me last year and what they did to this defense, I want to make sure that we come out here and show what we have and show that we want to play this game.”
Georgia Tech (2-0, 1-0) is the only ACC team that the UNC seniors haven’t beaten in their careers — other than Boston College, which they haven’t faced.
Mainly it’s because the Tar Heels have struggled to contain the triple-option — Boston and his teammates have lost by scores of 30-24, 35-28 and 68-50, with the Yellow Jackets gaining at least 300 rushing yards each time.
The Tar Heels (1-1, 0-0) took a new tack in practice the past two weeks, allowing the scout team to cut block against UNC’s starting defense.
“Some people might say, ‘Oh, it hurts,’” Boston said. “No, come try and cut me, I dare you. It’s something I’m prepared for and I know my team is prepared for.”
Duke coach David Cutcliffe called for cut blocking to be eliminated for safety reasons, while UNC associate coach for defense Vic Koenning said: “When you go against this offense, you’re putting your body at risk. Ain’t nobody that’s going to say different.”
But Koenning and UNC coach Larry Fedora acknowledged this week that it currently is part of the game, so the players better be ready. Senior defensive tackle Tim Jackson, who was injured on a cut block against Duke a year ago, said that the extra practice against cut blocks should help today.
“It’s human to think about it every play — which way it’s going to come from, who it’s going to be — but you can’t play like that,” Jackson said. “That’s what they want you to do so you slow up, play a little more timid. Next thing you know they drive you off the ball 5 yards.
“You have to be ready when it comes but play hard as if it’s not going to come.”
UNC has had two weeks to prepare for this game, which seems like an advantage when preparing for an unconventional offense. But the Tar Heels also had extra time a year ago, and it didn’t seem to matter.
“I’ll never forget (Fedora) saying, ‘That’s what I got for two weeks practice?’” Koenning said. “I’ll never forget that. I didn’t have a response to it — just ‘Sorry.’”
This time, Koenning wants to see better effort. He referenced John 8:32, which says that the truth will set you free.
“We had some guys that waved the white flag and couldn’t go in the second half (last year),” Koenning said. “On Saturday at 12, the truth’s going to be the truth. Do we want it enough? Are we willing to get off the ground, put our bodies in there?”
After losing by 17 at South Carolina and beating Middle Tennessee by 20 — both somewhat expected results — Fedora acknowledged that today’s game will be a good measuring stick to see how far the team has come since the 2012 season.
“Are we better equipped? I want to say so, yes,” Fedora said. “But the jury’s out until we do it on Saturday.”
Thorpe won’t play
Sophomore T.J. Thorpe, a Jordan High school graduate and the team’s starting punt returner, will miss the game with an undisclosed injury.
“Not making the trip to (Atlanta) with my bros today but I know they will hold it down until next week,” Thorpe wrote on Twitter on Friday afternoon.
A team source said that Thorpe was limited in practice this week and was not suspended. UNC does not release injury information unless the player is out for the season.
Thorpe, who missed the 2012 season with a broken foot, had five punt returns for 42 yards and a fumble in the first two games. Freshman Ryan Switzer likely will return punts against the Yellow Jackets.
Thorpe also had five catches for 17 yards and one kickoff return for 26 yards.