Three games into the 2014 season and it’s apparent North Carolina’s defense is still a major question mark. And in the Coastal Division where all seven teams exist with little separation, the Tar Heels’ struggles on this side of the ball is enough to prevent this team from making a trip to Charlotte in early December.
In Saturday’s loss to East Carolina, North Carolina’s flaws on this side of the ball were exposed.
The Pirates scored at least 14 points in every quarter, averaged 8.1 yards per play, recorded 39 first downs and 789 overall yards.
The defensive struggles aren’t just limited to Saturday’s loss to East Carolina. The Tar Heels gave up 29 points to Liberty and 27 to San Diego State. The pass rush has been largely invisible (four sacks in three games), which exposes a secondary that is filled with youth.
The numbers posted by East Carolina’s offense should be no surprise, but this effort by North Carolina’s defense was worse than last year’s effort in the 55-31 loss to the Pirates in Chapel Hill.
Several issues are at the core of the Tar Heels’ defensive issues, including youth in the starting lineup. North Carolina has just five seniors on the defensive two-deep, and the line features one freshman starter (Dajuan Drennon), while two sophomores (Brian Walker) and Des Lawrence) anchor the cornerback spots.
Youth is a huge issue that will only be solved with time and snaps.
But North Carolina doesn’t have time for its defense to grow. Take a look at the upcoming schedule: at Clemson, Virginia Tech, at Notre Dame, Georgia Tech, at Virginia, at Miami, Pittsburgh, at Duke and NC State.
Is there a guaranteed victory in that stretch?
By the Numbers on North Carolina's Defense
222.7 (5.5 ypc)
With any team running an up-tempo offense, it's tough to ask the defense to be a shutdown unit. However, North Carolina's defense simply has to be better for this team to take the next step.
While the numbers have been awful for the Tar Heels’ defense so far, this team has yet to play an ACC game.
North Carolina’s offense is explosive enough for this team to remain in contention for the Coastal crown. But when will the defense turn a corner in Chapel Hill?
Every unit has to improve, and some of the issues will require patience as some of the younger players get acclimated to a full season of FBS play. There’s plenty of hope for the future, but North Carolina’s Coastal Division title hopes could rest on how far this defense improves over the last nine games of the season.