The legend of Jay Bateman, the North Carolina Tar Heel’s defensive coordinator, really began in 2018 when his Army Black Knights took on the Oklahoma Sooners, a team that featured the soon-to-be Heisman winning quarterback Kyler Murray, and Lincoln Riley, who perennially has one of the best offenses in America. Bateman’s defense held that Oklahoma team to 21 points in regulation, before surrendering another touchdown in overtime to lose 28-21.
It was from that point on that Bateman’s coaching abilities really became known around mainstream college football. Fast forward a year later and Bateman is now the defensive coordinator at North Carolina, and he's turning heads as he builds this Tar Heel defense into something that the team can rely on now to keep them in games.
Defense for the Tar Heels is something that feels like has been optional in years past. Under the previous coaching staff, the offense was forced to score 30+ to have a real chance at winning a game, and to that staff’s credit, they scored 30+ quite a bit. But that is not a sustainable way of trying to win games, and it caught up with them.
Maybe that is what makes this run by the Tar Heels defense feel impressive. Even in the Appalachian State game, which the team as a whole gave up 34 points, the Tar Heels had a fumble that was taken back for a touchdown, on top of another turnover where the Mountaineers only had to march 25 yards for a touchdown.
When adjusting for opposing defensive touchdowns, the Tar Heels are giving up only 23 points a game, which is eleven points less than what they allowed last year. North Carolina is also boasting a nice improvement when it comes to overall defense, allowing 60 yards less per game.
But one thing that is clear to see when you watch this team play is how hard the team is playing on defense. Over the last couple of years the defense seemed to be gassed on the field, and that could be a takeaway from the offense running such an up-tempo scheme.
The bad part about that is that over the last couple of seasons, in the post-Mitchell Trubisky era, the offense would be running an incredibly quick offense, but not making any progress downfield. That adds up to quick three-and-outs, which leaves the defense out on the field for a long time each game and by the end of the game, they are gassed.
So maybe there is a correlation between this years offense running at a slower pace than a Larry Fedora coached team, and this defense looking fresher late in games. But regardless of that, this defense looks incredible later in games, allowing for the fourth-quarter magic on offense that has marked Sam Howell’s start to his career.
Bateman will likely be a hot commodity come this offseason for higher profile defensive coordinator jobs, or maybe even a head coaching job if he continues to do a great job with this Tar Heels defense. But if he sticks around long enough to get guys into his system that fit his defensive style, there's no reason to believe he can't produce one of the best defenses in the ACC, or maybe even the country.
This Saturday against Georgia Tech could be a game the Tar Heels overlook with the bye week looming, but with Georgia Tech no longer running the antiquated triple option (finally), Bateman’s defense should be in line for yet another good week. The legend of Jay Bateman is only growing.