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UNC vs. South Carolina: Positional Grades - Defense

Who are these guys??!!

NCAA Football: North Carolina at South Carolina Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Last year, Carolina’s defense was ranked 102 overall out of 131 total schools. The edict for this year’s defensive unit: Suck less!

On the evidence of one game, it’s a case of “Ask and ye shall receive!” The Tar Heels were unrecognizable in Charlotte, swarming South Carolina’s quarterback, bottling up their running game, and generally causing mayhem on everything except passes to Xavier Legette.

Here are UNC’s defensive positional grades.

Defensive Line: A

Whoa baby.

Myles Murphy, Travis Shaw, and Kevin Hester clogged the middle. Des Evans contained the outside and collected a sack. Kaimon Rucker and Amari Gainer are still chasing Spencer Rattler in his nightmares. Tomari Fox shook off the rust and recorded 1.5 sacks. Even redshirt freshman Beau Atkinson got in the mix with 1.5 sacks. He looks a real threat at defensive end.

In total, Carolina’s defensive line accounted for 13 tackels and 7.5 sacks (funky sack math with Cedric Gray and Beau Atkinson each having 1.5). These Tar Heels should be exhausted from sacking Spencer Rattler so much, but it’s all worth it, especially when you get recognized for your efforts:

Linebackers: B+

Cedric Gray and Power Echols are the primary middle linebackers for the second straight year. Kaimon Rucker and Amari Gainer split the snaps at Jack, but since they were playing on the line and living in South Carolina’s backfield, I’ve accounted for them in the D-Line grading.

Gray and Echols combined for 15 tackles. Gray added 1.5 TFL and 1.5 sacks as well. They looked as dynamic and robust as they did last year, but it’s easy to flex when you’re not having O-linemen bearing down on you. If they can stay clean all season, they’ll make plays sideline-to-sideline.

Freshman Amare Campbell got five snaps in and recorded a solo tackle. He’s one to watch for the future, and Mack Brown and Gene Chizik absolutely need to build depth behind Gray and Echols.

Secondary: C+

The good news? The secondary can tackle. Alijah Huzzie had eight tackles, Don Chapman had six, Gio Biggers had five, and Tayon Holloway had four.

The bad news? The secondary had to tackle. Dump-off pass merchant Spencer Rattler was finding receivers in space for them to gobble up YAC, and forced Carolina’s secondary to open field tackle. Xavier Legette terrorized UNC’s secondary as well, to the tune of seven catches for 178 yards.

In the second half, things got a little nervy when the defensive backs played off of receivers so far when they were just catching three-yard hitches. When the defensive line is getting home like they were against South Carolina, you should disrupt routes as much as you can to force the quarterback to stay in the pocket where he’ll get hit. Synchronizing these defensive efforts should be a top priority.

Special Teams: C+

Ben Kiernan only needed to punt twice, averaging 42.5 yards per punt. New kicker Ryan Coe hit all four of his PAT attempts and a 37-yard field goal.

The Tar Heels were only able to return one kick-off, and George Pettaway only returned it 16 yards. If opponents kick the ball short enough to play it, Pettaway has home run potential, he’s one to watch.

The main talking point will be South Carolina’s second half onside kick. UNC worked hard to take the lead in the first half, going into the locker rooms up 17-14 and had the ball to start the second half. It was a blow to lose the ball on a silly onside kick that the kicker was able to retrieve himself.

On another day against a better team, that play will be the difference between a close win and a devastating loss.