College football: Tar Heels get it done with defense
CHAPEL HILL ó North Carolina’s defense can dominate with its speed ó and its smarts.
“Everybody has some experience, so we know what to do,” linebacker Quan Sturdivant said. “That makes it easier out there for us to go make plays.”
With an ACC-best nine starters back, the 21st-ranked Tar Heels (1-0) knew their defense would be the strength of the team. But allowing just 30 yards rushing to The Citadel and forcing four turnovers caught even UNC’s players by surprise.
After their first touchdown-free game since 2000, the job gets somewhat tougher this week ó slowing a Connecticut team that must replace star running back Donald Brown.
The Huskies (1-0) had a pair of 100-yard rushers in their opener, with Jordan Todman running for 157 yards and a touchdown and Andre Dixon adding 100 yards in a 23-16 victory over Ohio.
Part of the job of slowing them falls to Sturdivant, a junior from West Stanly who led the nation in unassisted tackles in 2008 and had a team-high seven stops in the opener.
He’s adjusting to a new position this season after moving inside to middle linebacker. But six of his fellow starters on defense have at least 15 starts in their career, and everyone on the starting unit but freshman Zach Brown had played a significant amount of snaps before this season.
“Some of these guys, now that they’ve got 18 to 20 to 25 games of starting, the picture isn’t as big as it was last year or two years ago,” coach Butch Davis said. “The game has slowed down a little bit more, and they have a lot more recognition.”
A prime example came at the end of the first half against The Citadel. The Bulldogs trailed 23-0 when they intercepted a pass by T.J. Yates and returned it to the 3.
After an incomplete pass on first down, Bart Blanchard rolled to his right and threw back across the field to tight end Alex Sellars ó who was blocking and was supposed to sneak unguarded into the end zone.
Instead, two Tar Heels were waiting for him. Kendric Burney tipped the ball, and Deunta Williams intercepted it to help the Tar Heels thwart the Bulldogs’ best chance at a touchdown.
“Probably for sure, two years ago that’s a touchdown,” Davis said. “Both of those guys, it was just a matter of which one of them was going to get there first to try to intercept it because they anticipated it. So you hope with all of these experienced guys that you’d like to see that kind of continued growth.”