CHAPEL HILL — Vic Koenning, one of North Carolina’s two defensive coordinators, spent part of Saturday afternoon and night studying film of defensive breakdowns in the Tar Heels’ 68-50 loss against Georgia Tech. Even before he did, memories of the disastrous performance were already seared in his mind.
“That’s one of those that will hang with me probably as long as I ever coach football – as long as I live,” Koenning said Tuesday.
The 68 points were the second-most North Carolina has ever allowed, and the 50 the Tar Heels scored were the most by a losing team in ACC history.
When Koenning examined what went wrong against Georgia Tech’s triple-option offense, he didn’t see an abundance of missed assignments. He didn’t see players who lacked effort.
Instead, he said, Georgia Tech simply did what it wanted more often than UNC. And that happened again and again.
“There weren’t that many actual busted assignments,” Koenning said. “We just didn’t get to the places we counted on getting to … option offenses and spread offenses force you to win one-on-one battles and we didn’t do it.”
The defensive problems would have been difficult enough for Koenning to endure had they been isolated to Saturday. After all, the Yellow Jackets’ triple-option usually poses challenges for any defense, given the rarity of similar offenses in major college football.
The Tar Heels’ defensive woes, though, aren’t isolated to a single game against an unusual offense. Instead, what occurred Saturday took its place alongside UNC’s other recent defensive breakdowns. The Tar Heels have allowed three consecutive opponents to gain at least 510 yards of total offense.
In seven games against teams from BCS conferences, UNC has allowed an average of 475.6 yards, which ranks 94th nationally. Even so, coach Larry Fedora dispelled concern about his defense.
“I think we’ve been doing a solid job,” Fedora said this week. “I don’t think it’s been great, I don’t think it’s been bad. I think it’s been solid. The thing you’re looking for is consistency. That’s what you want.”
The Tar Heels have been consistent in October and November, though probably not in the way Fedora prefers. UNC’s defensive performances during its past four games – victories against Miami and N.C. State, defeats against Duke and Georgia Tech – have featured some of the same problems, especially against the pass.
Even the Yellow Jackets, who entered Saturday with 71 passing yards in their previous two games combined, exploited deficiencies in the Tar Heels’ pass defense. Georgia Tech finished with 208 yards passing – most under coach Paul Johnson against any ACC team besides Duke.
Fedora and his staff, though, haven’t spent too much time focusing on mistakes from Saturday.
Partly because the breakdowns came against a triple-option – an offense UNC won’t see again this season – and partly because of the quick turnaround that comes with the game Thursday night at Virginia – Fedora has emphasized the importance of moving on quickly.
“You really don’t have time to dwell on it,” he said. “Probably the best thing for us is we play in a short week. So mentally, you don’t have time to be thinking about it. You don’t have time to cry about it. You’ve got to go. It’s time to go again.”
That could be positive and negative for a defense that seems to have become weaker as the season has progressed. The total offensive yards North Carolina has allowed has increased in four consecutive games and one number above all remained in Sylvester Williams’ mind all weekend.
“All that kept racing in my mind was that 68, 68,” Williams said, referring to Georgia Tech’s point total. “That was a lot of points, man. That’s more points than I ever gave up at this level.”
Against Virginia, the Tar Heels will face a quarterback, Michael Rocco, who is coming off his best collegiate game. During the Cavaliers’ 41-40 victory against Miami on Saturday, he threw for 300 yards and four touchdowns.
Williams and his teammates, meanwhile, will enter Thursday night hoping to rebound from their worst performance.
“Hopefully, we can get back on track this Thursday and wash that taste out of our mouth,” he said. “That’s the only way it’s going to get gone.”