UNC defense avoids big play for second straight week
North Carolina’s defense has gone from a liability to an asset in the past two weeks thanks to its ability to shut down the opponent’s passing game.
After giving up just 59 yards in the air last week against Boston College, the Tar Heels limited N.C. State to 176 passing yards and intercepted two passes in a 27-19 win Saturday at Carter-Finley Stadium.
A big difference has been stopping the big play. After giving up 13 passes of more than 25 yards in its first six games, UNC hadn’t allowed any in the past two weeks, except for N.C. State’s 33-yard pass on the final play that was 24 yards short of the end zone.
“We’ve been communicating more, talking on the field about what we needed to do,” cornerback Tim Scott said. “And once we figured it out what we’re doing we’re just having fun with it.”
The Tar Heels have had less success stopping the run — Brandon Mitchell (105 yards on 21 carries) became the second Wolfpack quarterback in history to rush for 100 yards in a game, a week after BC running back Andre Williams gained 172 yards on the ground.
But after Mitchell’s 6-yard touchdown run on N.C. State’s first possession, UNC held its rival out of the end zone.
“Every time we allowed them in the red zone, we held them to a field goal,” Tar Heels coach Larry Fedora said. “We held them to four field goals. You have to give the defense a lot of credit for that, because they bowed up when it really counted.”
Junior Tim Scott and freshman Brian Walker also intercepted Mitchell in the second half, leading N.C. State to try backup Pete Thomas midway through the fourth quarter. That didn’t help the Wolfpack, who wound up with three points on their final 12 drives.
Scott helped lead the UNC celebration on N.C. State’s logo after the game, which may have been one of his rare missteps. Some Wolfpack players took offense, leading to a standoff before both teams went to their locker rooms.
“We just celebrated, not thinking about the middle-of-the-field logo, but we could see how it looked bad,” Scott said. “It was an in-the-moment kind of thing, and I guess they just took it the wrong way.”
Senior Wolfpack starting linebacker D.J. Green was ejected for targeting in the first quarter after a late dive into UNC quarterback Marquise Williams. The Tar Heels also looked like they would lose a player in the third quarter, but senior cornerback Jabari Price’s ejection for targeting was overturned on replay.
Even though Price was judged not to have targeted, the 15-yard penalty could not be reversed by rule, much to Fedora’s displeasure.
“That’s a tough deal for (the officials),” Fedora said. “When in doubt, throw the flag, and the 15-yarder counts no matter what. I don’t think it’s fair to the officials. It’s a bang-bang play and they’re trying to protect the defenseless player, and they don’t know. You have to look at it five times to see if it really is helmet-to-helmet and was he targeting or not.”
Williams took a big hit in the third quarter and stayed on the ground momentarily. But Williams said he was never worried, and was even joking with his lineman about where he was going to eat after the game.
“Probably going to get me a good steak tonight,” Williams said. “Probably treat me to some Ruth’s Chris, because you can’t get no better than beating State.”
Williams eventually left the field but passed a concussion test and went back in the next series.