Tar Heels having trouble creating turnovers

Staff WriterOctober 1, 2009 

— North Carolina defensive back Charles Brown said he's surprised his team hasn't snagged an interception the last two games.

And if it stretches to a third game, Saturday against winless Virginia, replace that surprise with a different reaction.

"I'll be disappointed," Brown said Wednesday.

The Tar Heels' defense has been their strength this season, holding opponents to 250.5 yards per game (14th in the nation) and 14.2 points (19th). But one area where it has fallen short is in creating turnovers.

After four weeks, UNC (3-1, 0-1 ACC) ranks ninth in the league in turnover margin, at minus-3. And only one of its four interceptions -- Brown's second-quarter pick against Connecticut -- has come against a Football Bowl Subdivision team.

"Coaches have been stressing that in practice. They were mad that we weren't getting interceptions or fumble recoveries," Brown said. "That's the main thing -- take the ball away."

Coach Butch Davis said he wasn't particularly displeased that the Tar Heels failed to make an interception at Georgia Tech, considering "they don't throw very often, unless [their opponent] is ahead."

However, there were two loose balls, he said, that the Tar Heels could have pounced on. That's something that will continue to be a focus for UNC as it prepares for the Cavaliers (0-3, 0-0), who will be looking to improve their own minus-five turnover ratio.

"We talk about it all the time, finding ways," Tar Heels cornerback Kendric Burney said. "We look at film and study the ways people carry the ball, if the quarterback has tendencies. ... An emphasis this season was learning how to strip the ball -- one guy holds him up, the other goes for the ball."

As for interceptions, Burney admits his team probably won't achieve the 30-pick goal he and other members of the secondary set before the season. But he still thinks there's time to improve upon last year, when UNC snagged 20 interceptions, one off the school record.

Said Davis, "Turnovers are funny things; they come in bunches. Sometimes, all of a sudden, you start getting them in clusters, and hopefully, we start getting back on that track."

Still confident in Barth: Davis said he "absolutely" still has confidence in kicker Casey Barth, despite the sophomore's two missed field goals from inside 40 yards this season.

"I don't know if his confidence has," Davis said. "I know that he's mad at himself; I think that any kicker would be. Sometimes kickers are like quarterbacks; they're their own worse critics. They want to be perfect, and I know that he wants to be perfect. He wants to make every kick.

"When I talk to him about it -- like any kicker I've had -- you talk to him in the context of a golfer that's putting. You're sitting there, and as much as you say, 'We don't expect you to make 50-footers in golf,' we don't expect you to make 55-yarders in games very often. You might make some, but the ones ... inside of three feet, you'd like to make 'em.

"But still, you see guys that do that for a living, and they still miss them. And it boils down to blocking out all the previous kicks, and it's fundamentals. It's your approach to the ball, your trust in the snapper, your trust in the holder."

Barth was connecting consistently in practice Wednesday. A possible factor that may have contributed to his early shakiness was his need to work out the timing with a new deep snapper; Trevor Stuart tore a ligament in his knee against ECU, leaving Mark House, who played in six games last season, to return to the deep snapper position.

In all, Barth has made four of his six field-goal attempts this season.

robbi.pickeral@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8944

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