UNC defense limits big plays, excels against the pass

acarter@newsobserver.comOctober 26, 2013 

— It’s not often – or ever, before Saturday – that this North Carolina defense could be compared favorably with the Tar Heels’ 1997 defense, which is remembered as, perhaps, the best in school history.

But UNC during its 34-10 victory against Boston College on Saturday allowed just 59 passing yards – the fewest passing yards the Tar Heels had given up since that ’97 defense carried UNC to a top-5 national ranking.

As expected, Boston College senior running back Andre Williams, one of the nation’s leading rushers, was productive. Williams ran for 172 yards. The rest of the Eagles offense – especially the passing game – did little. UNC was determined not to allow long plays in the passing game – so much so that UNC in the second half often played with eight defensive backs.

“The more DBs, the better,” Jabari Price, the UNC senior cornerback, said with a smile.

Price said the Tar Heels played with eight defensive backs nearly half the time in the second half. The extra help in the defensive secondary helped limit the Eagles to 19 yards passing during the final two quarters.

The Eagles’ only touchdown came on Williams’ 56-yard run in the first quarter, but outside of that UNC surrendered no big plays.

“We limited the big plays,” said UNC defensive end Kareem Martin, who had two sacks. “They had that one long run, and we were able to stop them pretty much for the rest of the game.”

ROTATION FINDS RHYTHM

UNC quarterbacks Bryn Renner and Marquise Williams rotated with some success during the Tar Heels’ 27-23 loss against Miami last Thursday. The rotation worked even better, though, on Saturday against Boston College.

They combined to complete 22 of their 29 attempts for 282 yards and three touchdowns. Williams also ran for a 4-yard touchdown and led the Tar Heels with 55 yards rushing.

“A lot of people are going to tell you that you can’t do that – that it’s going to mess with the flow of the game,” UNC coach Larry Fedora said of using both Renner and Williams. “But they really are doing a great job. It’s a seamless transition between the two.”

Renner, the fifth-year senior, started the game, as he did against Miami. Williams ran UNC’s entire fourth offensive series, and the two split time from there.

ASK, AND EBRON SHALL RECEIVE – OR RUN

So whose idea was it for Eric Ebron, the UNC tight end, to take a couple of handoffs out of the backfield on Saturday?

“Mine,” Ebron said with a smile. “I told coach Fedora to put the ball in my hands more.”

Ebron said he had been asking for about three weeks for a chance to play running back. His 71-yard touchdown reception against Miami, he said, convinced Fedora to give him a chance. Ebron caught four passes for 67 yards on Saturday, and gained seven yards rushing on two carries.

His 6-yard run on a 3rd-and-3 late in the second quarter helped set up a UNC touchdown.

“I don’t think I need anymore dimensions to my offensive game, but it adds a lot,” Ebron said. “I mean, I like it. I thought it was cool.”

ETC. …

UNC allowed its fewest points in an ACC game since 2010. … Boston College didn’t run an offensive play inside the Tar Heels’ 35-yard line until the final four plays of the game. … The Eagles were just 5-for-16 on third down, while UNC converted eight of its 16 third downs. … Renner completed 85.7 percent of his passes – his highest completion percentage since completing 22 of his 23 attempts against James Madison in his first start in 2011.

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