Is it time to start worrying about Gene Chizik and the UNC run defense?
The question is honestly legitimate, even though we are only three games into the season. In the age of the spread offense, stopping the run and controlling the line of scrimmage is still as important as ever.
UNC has seen some improvement in their run defense in terms of ranking. Last year the Heels ranked 121st and gave up 247.4 yards per game on the ground. After three games, UNC ranks 108th, giving up 226.7 yards on the ground. The improvement isn’t much, but it is there.
We all know that UNC was torched by Nick Chubb and the Georgia running game this year. Chubb rushed for 222 yards while averaging 6.9 yards per carry. There is no shame in giving up a ton of yards to possibly the best back in the country. Now, the question is, how has Carolina fared against other teams?
Well, against Illinois UNC only gave up 182 yards rushing. Would most fans see this as a huge improvement? Maybe not, but I do. The defense needed to better the following week, and they were. After a rough outing against Georgia, UNC went on to hold an opponent to under 200 yards rushing for the first time since the Virginia Tech game last November.
UNC followed this performance up with a shaky first half, followed by a defensive shut down of JMU, holding them to only 72 yards on 21 carries in the second half. This clearly shows that adjustments made by the coaching staff turned around the run defense in the second half.
These may not be stand out stats to many fans, but they are truly things we should recognize as the team taking a step in the right direction. The run defense is far from perfect but improvements are being made. Some fans may not like the improvements they’ve seen so far, but there are points to be made for why fans should be somewhat satisfied with what they have seen.
UNC’s defensive line has been decimated by injuries. The defensive line hasn’t been a consistent rotation of players, which is probably adding to the inconsistency stopping the run. It is a shame, because I truly believe a completely healthy UNC defensive line could show us promises of a consistent run defense.
Some fans may also say, “who cares? As long as we are winning, I don’t care if we give up 500 yards rushing a game.” That is somewhat true, and a legitimate argument, I guess. I mean, UNC had a pretty terrible run defense last year, and they still managed to win 11 games.
The reason we should care though, is because that isn’t usually a trend that lasts. No team has given up so many yards on the ground has gone on to win championships. The phrase isn’t “offense wins championships,” for a reason. Because of this, UNC needs to continue to make improvements stopping the run, and real quick.
The Heels have to go up against two of the better rushing teams they will face this season in the coming weeks. This week, Pitt comes to Chapel Hill with the 21st ranked rushing attack, boasting 239 yards per game behind running back, and 2014 ACC player of the year, James Connor.
Pitt loves to run the ball. I’m talking running the ball over 50 times a game with eight plus different players. It is something UNC hasn’t seen so far this season, and will see all Saturday long.
The following week UNC goes to Tallahassee to take on Florida State and running back, Dalvin Cook. We know what Cook is capable of doing, as he ran for almost 1,700 yards last season. However, Cook is on pace to have less than 1,000 yards in a season for the first time in his career, and hasn’t reached 100 yards in a single game yet this year. He’ll be hungry against the Heels and it’s just a matter of time before he gets going.
Is it time to start truly worrying about UNC’s run defense? The short answer is probably not. Based on three games, there’s no reason to jump the gun quite yet. These next two weeks will be very telling as to where the run defense truly is. The Georgia game was an eye opener. These next two games will be measuring sticks to show just how much the run defense has improved since Atlanta.