On Sunday, the North Carolina coaching staff did what it always does on Sundays during the college football season: it examined what happened the day before, in a game, and then tried to break down the mishaps and figure out a way to correct them.
For Gene Chizik, the Tar Heels’ defensive coordinator, the film review at times wasn’t all that pleasant an experience. UNC allowed 474 yards – 289 of them rushing yards – during its 33-24 loss against Georgia on Saturday in Atlanta.
“The numbers obviously aren’t pretty,” Chizik said after practice on Tuesday. “There were some things that we did that we’ve definitely got to fix – we were poor at.”
Even so, Chizik said, he saw “a lot of good things,” too, and reasons to be encouraged. In moments on Saturday, the Tar Heels contained the Georgia offense, and at times – however short-lived – they limited Nick Chubb, who gained 222 yards on his 32 carries.
And yet there were too many missed tackles and too many times when the Tar Heels were out of position, ever so slightly, before Georgia capitalized. Chizik and the defensive coaching staff entered Saturday hoping they’d sufficiently fixed UNC’s run defense.
But, Chizik said, “you don’t ever know going into the first game how good or bad you’re going to be at that. We were poor.”
It didn’t help UNC’s cause that it was more short-handed on the defensive line than it anticipated. Chizik knew he’d be without Dajaun Drennon, a starting defensive end who wasn’t on the depth chart entering Saturday while he recovers from an undisclosed injury.
Chizik likely couldn’t have known, though, that Tyler Powell, one of Drennon’s backups, would also be unavailable. Powell, who has worked at defensive tackle and defensive end, prepared last week as though he was going to start at defensive end on Saturday.
He traveled with the team to Atlanta. He went through pregame warmups.
And then, mysteriously, he was gone. Powell didn’t play and wasn’t on the sideline during the game. UNC coach Larry Fedora earlier this week said Powell is dealing with “some personal issues.”
“Don’t know what that situation will be,” Fedora said.
The numbers obviously aren’t pretty. There were some things that we did that we’ve definitely got to fix – we were poor at.
Powell’s absence left UNC especially thin at defensive end, where Malik Carney, a 6-foot-3, 230-pound sophomore, made his first college start on Saturday opposite Mikey Bart. Carney was overmatched, physically, but Chizik said he was “really proud” of how Carney competed.
“He’s kind of a lighter guy,” Chizik said. “He’s a guy that we moved positions with him when he got here. He held up. It’s a big man’s game down there, he’s not a big man for that position. And all of that being said, I thought he really played tough, he played physical.”
The health of the defensive line continues to be a concern for UNC. Drennon will be out for the foreseeable future. Jalen Dalton, a sophomore who arrived last year as the most heralded defensive prospect of Fedora’s head coaching tenure, played less than 30 snaps on Saturday while he recovers from an injury.
Now Powell is out indefinitely. The injuries and attrition have created challenges for Chizik and the defensive staff.
Bart is a proven starter at one of UNC’s defensive end positions. Opposite him, though, it’s Carney and Tomon Fox, a freshman. Like Carney, Fox is listed at 230 pounds.
In his first college game on Saturday, Fox was on the field for “20-something” plays, Chizik said. Carney played approximately 50 snaps.
“Those are guys that haven’t had a lot of experience,” Chizik said. “But there are some question marks in terms of guys that we’re counting on, experience wise, and there’s nothing you can do except getting them in the game and getting them experience. So it’s just kind of the way the game rolls.”
North Carolina at Illinois
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday