The first three seasons of Coach Mack Brown’s second stint in North Carolina were defined by an explosive offense. However, in season four, which kicks off Saturday at 8 p.m. against Florida A&M, the Tar Heels are bound to make defense their identity.
And it all starts with their defensive line.
Carolina built from the start and now has a combination of experience, talent and depth that could potentially make them a special unit.
“I can tell you more after the first game, but I feel like we have a chance to be really good from the start,” said Gene Chizik, UNC assistant head coach for defense. . “I feel like I’ve told them since I’ve been here, and I tell them every day, if you (on the defensive line) don’t play at a high level, we don’t have a defense. “
The Heels have eight players — two deep at each position — they deem worthy of starting. And that’s not to mention the special packages and situational players they’ll be rotating in addition to those players.
Chizik said they have “huge frames” up front with players like defensive tackle Myles Murphy checking in at 305 pounds and nose tackle Ray Vohasek at 310 pounds who should help them be against the race. Chizik is hopeful that Carolina can finally generate a passing rush with its four linemen down — without having to blitz or resort to some exotic scheme to get sacks.
“We expect them to play really, really well,” Chizik said. “Have we arrived? No. But I think they’ve come a long way in eight months in terms of how we want them to play and the behavior they need to approach each game, so we’re getting there.
FAMU vulnerable from the start?
As Friday’s “will they or won’t they play” drama unfolded in regards to FAMU’s declining eligibility count, head coach Willie Simmons allegedly said at one point that ‘they only had seven offensive linemen who could travel. He eventually told ESPN that eight made the trip. That number, mind you, doesn’t necessarily represent the Rattlers’ top eight offensive linemen. It gives them just enough to feel capable of playing a match and maintaining their normal substitution patterns to guard against fatigue. Keep an eye out if Carolina’s defensive line takes advantage of the FAMU not being at full strength.
Deeper than advertised
UNC receiver Josh Downs is the only returning starter at receiver who will start against the Rattlers. As Carolina ushers in a new group of largely untested point guards, Downs said he’s confident one thing will stay the same.
“We’re still going to be really explosive,” he said.
The receiver is arguably the offensive group with the least depth, especially after senior Antoine Green suffered a shoulder injury in camp and will miss at least three more weeks. Offensive coordinator Phil Longo believes the group of newcomers including Will Blackwell, Kobe Paysour and Andre Greene will make up for what they lack in numbers.
“There’s a lot more depth at receiver and a lot of them are a lot closer to being contributors for us right now,” Longo said. “We probably have a little more depth than you think, although the numbers on paper don’t necessarily show it.”
How to watch
The game will be broadcast on the ACC network. It’s also available on the ESPN app with an ESPN+ subscription and through various subscription apps that stream the ACC Network, such as Hulu and YouTube TV. The link to watch it is here.