UNC's recovering defense faces QB force in Bridgewater

acarter@newsobserver.comSeptember 14, 2012 

— North Carolina’s coaching staff counted just six missed defensive assignments during the Tar Heels’ dominant season-opening victory against Elon. The next week, in a loss at Wake Forest, the number grew to 25.

“Doing new stuff, and missed communication,” UNC linebacker Kevin Reddick said earlier this week, explaining the disparity. “That’s all it really was. First game was basic. Next game, we kind of tried to do some new things. And we want to do new things. But we’ve got to execute them.”

The Tar Heels didn’t at Wake Forest – at least not during the Demon Deacons’ 93-yard game-winning touchdown drive in the fourth quarter. Now UNC’s defense, which looked so good against an overmatched opponent during the first week, will have a chance to redeem itself.

The Tar Heels on Saturday play at No. 19 Louisville, which has been known far more for its defense than its offense since Charlie Strong arrived as the head coach in 2010. Even so, the Cardinals’ once-stagnant offense has shown signs of life early in the season – mainly thanks to sophomore quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.

“(He’s) pretty special,” UNC coach Larry Fedora said after scouting Bridgewater on film. “I think Charlie’s got to be very happy about the way that young man has performed at this point. I think he’s got to be excited about the future there at Louisville because the kid looks like he can beat you with his legs or he can beat you with his arm.

“Those kind of quarterbacks are by far the toughest to try to defend.”

Fedora would know, given he prefers similarly-skilled quarterbacks to run his no-huddle spread offense. But he doesn’t necessarily like for his team to have to defend one.

Bridgewater, the Big East rookie of the year a season ago, has completed 82 percent of his passes in his first two games this season. He threw for 344 yards – a career high – in a 35-7 victory last week against Missouri State.

Perhaps more troubling for UNC, though, is Bridgewater’s mobility. He is unlikely to gain many rushing yards, but he has a knack for avoiding defensive pressure and keeping plays alive.

“We’re working hard on our pass-rush lanes making sure that we contain – [that] we sit in there with him,” Fedora said. “At the same time you’re trying to get pressure, but not trying to open up lanes for him. On the back end you have to do a great job of coverage.”

Facing Bridgewater, Fedora said, is a “scary thought” given the Heels defensive problems against Wake Forest. UNC seemed to have solved the Demon Deacons’ passing game until that key fourth-quarter drive, when Wake quarterback Tanner Price avoided the pass rush, extended plays and found open receivers.

That was a learning experience, Reddick said, for a defense that is still adapting to UNC’s new 4-2-5 scheme. Just how much the Tar Heels learned, though, could become clear Saturday.

Carter: 919-829-8944

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service