Second-half defensive letdown costs UNC
Bandit Norkeithus Otis said the defense wasn’t worn down. Cornerback Tim Scott implied that it was. Coach Larry Fedora said he didn’t know.
Tired or not, North Carolina’s defense clearly wasn’t as effective in the second half of Saturday’s 28-20 loss to Georgia Tech, allowing the Yellow Jackets to chew up the clock and giving the Tar Heels just four possessions in the entire second half.
Those drives totaled 18 plays and just 62 yards, not nearly enough to prevent an eighth straight loss at Georgia Tech.
The toll on the defense was most obvious at the end, when the Yellow Jackets were able to run the final 6:27 off the clock. On third-and-10 from the UNC 25 with 1:34 to play, Tech coach Paul Johnson called for a Vad Lee keeper so the ball would be centered for a potential clinching field goal.
But Lee, a product of Hillside High School, broke through tackles for a 10-yard run, the longest gain of his 24 carries, and Georgia Tech was in kneel-down mode from there.
When asked if the missed tackles in the second half was due to being worn down, Fedora said it was “a good question,” and then put the responsibility squarely on the players.
”I don’t know the answer,” Fedora said. “I know this – our staff put them in position to make plays. I thought guys were there. It’s not like we didn’t have answers for what they were doing, I thought we had guys where they were supposed to be, and then you just have to make the tackle.”
Otis, who made up for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in the first quarter with a monster game that included eight tackles, a sack, two forced fumbles and a pass break-up, said the players weren’t tired at the end.
“We’re used to playing against a fast tempo because of our offense,” Otis said. “We’re in shape. We’re good.”
But Scott acknowledged that the players didn’t have the same spark as they did in the beginning, when the Yellow Jackets had two three-and-outs and lost a fumble in their first four possessions.
“The second half we played with a little less energy than we had in the first, and when the defense plays with less energy it helps the offense out,” Scott said.
The Tar Heels defense certainly played much better than in last year’s 68-50 fiasco. But that was no consolation to senior Kareem Martin, who will end his career winless against Georgia Tech. It also put UNC 0-1 in the ACC for the 10th time in 11 years, a difficult position if it hopes to make its first conference title game.
“There’s no such thing as a
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moral victory to me,” Martin said. “At the end of the day a moral victory isn’t going to get you to the ACC championship.”
For the second straight week, UNC went for a two-point conversion after its opening score, only to see holder Tommy Hibbard throw incomplete.
In Atlanta, Hibbard missed connecting with kicker Thomas Moore in the end zone. Still, it doesn’t seem that those failures will keep Fedora from continuing with that strategy.
“We’re not going to coach scared,” Fedora said. “We’re going to coach to win football games. We’re always going to be aggressive. Just gotta make the dang play, that’s all you have to do. It’s there. Take advantage of it.”
A two-point conversion in the first half proved critical in UNC’s 18-14 win over Miami last year, since it prevented the Hurricanes from attempting a tying field goal twice in the fourth quarter (instead they turned it over on downs at the UNC 26- and 24-yard lines).
Then again, though he played quarterback in high school, there’s a reason Hibbard was recruited as a punter, not a thrower.