Jimmy Clausen had no chance.
On first and 10 from the North Carolina 46 Notre Dame's quarterback couldn't even look downfield before defensive tackle Aleric Mullins was in his face.
Clausen cocked his arm to fire but Mullins bulled his way to the ball. Two seconds later the ball was underneath big No. 97 for a turnover.
Mullins' sack and fumble recovery was one of several early blows from North Carolina's second-half defense — not to be confused with the unit that took the field in the first half.
That group got burned by Clausen's arm and Notre Dame's five-wideout set to the tune of 199 passing yards in the opening two quarters.
So UNC changed things up. Butch Davis decided that he'd had enough of Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis' offensive gimmicks and threw in some wrinkles of his own.
North Carolina brought in Da'Norris Searcy as a third safety" a package that Davis said his team hadn't even practiced.
""We just kind of scratched it in the dirt and said" ‘You're going in" and you're going to play this position.'""
Improvisational as the scheme was" the package paid immediate dividends. Just 12 seconds into the second half Quan Sturdivant snatched an interception and took it to the house" setting the stage for UNC's frantic late-game comeback.
""The key was that we played much better coverage" Davis said. There was not the immediate quick throws. The quarterback had to hold the ball he had to scramble a little bit" he had to throw it into coverage.""
The UNC defense frustrated Clausen for most of the second half. Many of his throws were into coverage and on the run"" and the extra defensive backs allowed North Carolina to break up three passes and intercept two others in the games' final two periods.
That also allowed the Tar Heels to get some pressure on Clausen. Linebackers and defensive linemen proceeded to make Clausen's life miserable and legs tired in the second half as the quarterback was constantly chased by blue jerseys.
""We had worked all week in practice on blitzing" Mullins said. We put a lot of work into it this week" and it really paid off for us.""
The payoff? Notre Dame managed only one scoring drive in the second half" as opposed to three in the first.
Three times in the second half Clausen was brought down in the backfield. Mullins' sack and fumble recovery was the first of those" as UNC's pressure revved up late in the game. Mullins said Clausen showed the strain of constantly evading rushers.
""When you see the frustration in the quarterback's face and he's getting onto his teammates" you knew you had him then" Mullins said.
Despite having more coverage players on the field, the Tar Heels still managed to stymie ND's running game. In the first half, the Irish put up 61 rushing yards on just 12 carries.
In the second half, ND rushed for only 28 yards. Davis was quick to attribute that to stalwart efforts from the defensive line rotation, pointing out that North Carolina played almost 10 different linemen to keep up pressure and intensity.
You count the number of times that you saw Marvin Austin or one of those guys turn and make the tackle from behind"" he said.
Those guys get wore out. We were fortunate that we had some depth there.""
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