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UNC Football: Keep up the pressure

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The defense stepped up in a big way. Can it continue?

Clemson v North Carolina Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Chazz Surratt’s defensive breakout last Saturday led the North Carolina Tar Heels in holding Clemson to its fewest total yards and fewest total points since the 2017 College Football Playoff title game. The x-factor heading into the game in Atlanta versus Georgia Tech will be keeping up the pressure. In his post game press conference, head coach Mack Brown spoke about playing at a consistent level rather than to adjusting to the opponent.

Will the Tar Heels play with the same enthusiasm and execution as last week against the top-ranked team in the country? It will be a difficult task considering the heartbreaking finish last week and playing 378 miles away from Kenan this week. However, this opponent will not be like the one last Saturday.

The performance of GT’s offensive line has been abysmal. Football Outsiders publish many advanced stats, including for offensive lines that measure run and pass-blocking statistics.

In metrics for Power Success Rate, Stuff Rate, Sack Rate, and Passing Downs Sack Rate, Georgia Tech ranks near the bottom of the entire NCAA.

The Yellow Jackets have struggled in the post-Paul Johnson era as they transition their offense from the triple option to a spread. They are not there yet as they continue to use pieces of the old playbook. GT’s offense is only producing 289 yards of offense per game, ranking 127th of 130 teams.

With the prior performances of both teams, there is a challenge and a couple opportunities for the Tar Heel defense this week. The challenge is playing at a high level. The opportunities include continued growth and building confidence.

Against Clemson, Carolina had one sack, three tackles for loss, and seven hurries. This week versus Georgia Tech, the UNC front seven has a great opportunity to build on those successes against a much less formidable offensive line. A let down can be expected, but Brown is challenging the players to maintain the level of excellence displayed against Clemson.

If this is achieved, players like Surratt, Jason Strowbridge, and Jeremiah Gemmel will only build their own confidence as their preparedness off the field is rewarded by execution on the field. Additionally, continued growth for other players on defense will benefit this team in the long run.

One of the themes from Brown heard throughout training camp and as recently as Week 5 was a lack of depth.

Last week, players like Storm Duck, Cam’Ron Kelly, and Don Chapman were the next men up on a depleted defensive front. They played significant snaps and were part of a team effort on defense.

If the expectations for defense are exceeded this week against Georgia Tech, expect those younger players forced into bigger roles and those needing more live snaps to be on the field for extended periods. This valuable experience will continue to build the skill sets and confidence of those players.

But at the end of the day, can the Tar Heels match their intensity and focus level from last week? It will be difficult, but this defensive unit needs to keep up the pressure.