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UNC vs Syracuse: Position Grades, Part Two: Defense

Complete domination from start to finish.

NCAA Football: Syracuse at North Carolina Jaylynn Nash-USA TODAY Sports

It had been 734 days since a North Carolina defense held any opponent under ten points. That streak is no more as the Heels put on a defensive clinic on Saturday vs Syracuse in a convincing 40-7 victory. The offense put up the eye-opening numbers, but it would not have been possible if it were not for the domination and efficiency of the Tar Heels on the other side of the ball. Refreshing, right?!

Here are our grades for UNC’s defense against the Syracuse Orange.

Defensive Line: A

Syracuse struggled to get anything going on the ground, only totaling 92 rushing yards on 28 attempts. The Orange offensive attack never seemed to be settled or comfortable, which is primarily due to the command the Heels had up front.

Myles Murphy led the way with five total tackles and one huge TFL in the first quarter, carrying the momentum right after a 77-yard TD drive. The unit as a whole kept the tone and momentum in the hands of the Heels all afternoon. They limited big plays, kept QB Garrett Shrader’s legs in check, and made massive third-down stands in critical situations.

There’s not much to critique from what we saw from the DL on Saturday; I just hope a performance like this would be considered the standard moving forward.

Linebackers: A

Cedric Gray, Power Echols, and Kaimon Rucker continue to emerge as an elite trio on this UNC defense. Once again, Cedric Gray led the team with eight tackles and had the defenses only sack that knocked Syracuse out of FG range early in the second quarter. Freshman Amare Campbell came away with a late INT in the fourth to seal the deal in Chapel Hill.

When the Orange rushing attack did break into that second level, the linebacker core smothered up any breakaway chances. Also, as mentioned with the defensive line, the run aspect of Garrett Shrader was nearly a non-factor. This speaks volumes for the improvements the LBs and defense as a whole have made due to that being an Achilles heel for Carolina teams in the past.

This unit continues to show how versatile and athletic they are. It was not a statistical outbreak for this group, but in games like Saturday, less can be considered more. The less we see falling on the linebackers typically means they are containing and covering exactly how they are supposed to.

Secondary: B+

The secondary is vastly improved from years past, so any performance where an offense is held to single digits feels like an A+ for us fans. Do not get me wrong, this was a massive weekend for this group. Syracuse was held to 129 total pass yards and, you guessed it, another big-time interception by Alijah Huzzie, who continues to be a star for this UNC defense.

Like the complementing parts of this defense, there was no big play issue for the Heels this weekend. That initially starts with the secondary, as Don Chapman, Marcus Allen, Gio Biggers, and the supporting staff held just about everything that went in the air, in check.

The reason for the harsher grade for this unit was the chunk plays that Syracuse still found success with when they went to the air. While only allowing seven points, 5/7 plays that went for 10+ yards were by the pass, and Cuse only threw the ball 21 times. On a few drives, Syracuse finally found out how to attack this UNC secondary when they began to go at the DBs in these medium distances.

When it was all said and done, the damage was minimized, and this was still a productive showing from this developing group. They have a lot to be proud of. But sometimes, it just looks a little too easy for opposing offenses, and when that did happen (Syracuse’s only TD drive), it was mainly due to allowing those chunk plays through the air.