The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Monday December 5th

Texas Manhandles Tar Heel Front Seven

Cedric Benson tramples struggling UNC defense

More than eight minutes remained in the first quarter, and North Carolina only trailed Texas 3-0.

The second time the crowd at the stadium broke out that same cheer came with four minutes left in the first half, the Tar Heels trailing 24-0.

This time, instead of a united, resonant yell, the chant was disorganized, tired and ineffective.

Kind of like the UNC front seven.

The Longhorns came out and pounded away with an overpowering running game in the first half, en route to the big lead that effectively sealed the game before halftime.

Sophomore tailback Cedric Benson led the charge, carrying the ball 15 times for 115 yards in the first half and finishing the game with 208 yards on 31 rushes.

All in all, Texas gained 271 of its 569 total yards on the ground.

"This past week we talked a lot about being patient, about staying on pads and hitting holes and doing things right," Benson said. "There was no question the offensive line was going to come through. I knew that coming into the game."

UNC's defensive line has been susceptible to the run this year, allowing 175 yards to Miami (Ohio) and 183 at Syracuse.

The Tar Heels' problems against the run only worsened, when defensive tackle Eric Davis tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the season opener against Miami, making a young and inexperienced front seven even more young and inexperienced.

But Texas struggled to establish its running game in its season opener against North Texas on Aug. 31. Even though the Longhorns won 27-0, they ran for just 27 yards behind an offensive line that struggled to both block for the ground game and to protect quarterback Chris Simms, who was sacked six times by the Mean Green.

With a bye week between that game and the trip to Chapel Hill, the Longhorns' offensive line put some extra work into the fundamentals, knowing that the game plan would be to ram the ball down the throats of the Tar Heels' defense to open up the passing game for Simms and his receivers.

"Practice this week was basically: 'We're gonna run the ball, and you're going to run every play until you get it right,'" said Texas left guard Tillman Holloway.

"So if we didn't run the right play, we got whistled back and ran it again until we got it right."

The additional practice made for a long night for the UNC front seven, which consistently saw Benson coming at them on a series of off-tackle and between-the-tackles runs. Benson finished the night with touchdown rushes of four and 17 yards, and he averaged 6.7 yards per carry.

In the first series of the game, Benson rushed for 41 yards -- eight less than he had the entire game against North Texas.

"At times we played great -- we flew to the ball, we flew around," said UNC defensive end Will Chapman. "And then at times they ran up there like it was wide open."

Texas' ability to establish a ground game early allowed one of the nation's best aerial attacks to go to work, further compounding the Tar Heel defense's problems.

When the Tar Heels began bringing their safeties down to guard against the run, their cornerbacks were isolated, one-on-one, against the Longhorns' receivers.

The result?

A 31-point Texas win and a long night of restless, and at times disinterested, cheering at Kenan Stadium.

"They came out clearly worrying about the pass," Simms said.

"They didn't believe we were going to run it on them. We proved it right away."

Said Benson: "The coaches told me we were going to come out and we were going to start with the run, see how they handled that. And we put it to them."

The Sports Editor can be reached at sports@unc.edu.

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