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The Daily Tar Heel

Football: UNC defense lives up to expectations at UConn

Dion Guy (57) tackles UConn’s Jordan Todman in UNC’s 12-10 victory against the Huskies.
Dion Guy (57) tackles UConn’s Jordan Todman in UNC’s 12-10 victory against the Huskies.

Last Saturday, Butch Davis said No. 24 North Carolina’s offense finally broke through a stout Connecticut defensive front because of how long the Husky defense was on Rentschler Field.

At his weekly press conference Monday, Davis credited the defensive unit for giving quarterback T.J. Yates and the rest of the Tar Heel offense numerous chances to fatigue the Huskies’ defense.

“The defense clearly played very well in that ball game. We were very fortunate. Some things defensively that significantly contributed to our ability to win the game was third downs,” Davis said.

“I think Connecticut was 2-for-13 that day, and I think that was instrumental in giving our offense a lot of opportunities.”

North Carolina’s defense limited the Husky offense to just 24 snaps in the second half. Also, the Tar Heels (2-0) have gotten off the field at a very efficient rate in their first two games, only allowing four third-down conversions in 29 attempts.

That comes out to a 13.8 percent conversion rate — not too shabby for a unit that allowed opponents to convert 43 percent of their third downs last season.

Junior Deunta Williams, who has seen the evolution of the defense in his three seasons starting at safety, said it’s a result of his and his teammates’ improved understanding of opposing offenses during the Tar Heels’ growing pains.

“Coach Davis talked about it yesterday during the team meeting. He might have said it was the more important stat of the day,” Williams said.

“We’d like to affect field position more, but we won third downs, and I think that’s the biggest thing we’ve been doing so far — getting three-and-outs. Keeping our legs a little bit fresher and giving our offense chances time and time again to make a score.”

Receiving update

UNC’s receiving corps is still unsettled through two games as the plethora of young wide-outs try to separate themselves from the pack.

True freshman Erik Highsmith caught his first passes of his college career against Connecticut (1-1), nabbing four passes for 59 yards, including a 21-yard catch on third-and-17 in the fourth quarter.

Fellow freshman Joshua Adams remains above Highsmith on the depth chart for now, and Davis said he will continue to give the players competing for the job plenty of playing time to gain comfort on the field.

“We need these guys to continue to grow,” Davis said. “We’ve made this statement since August the first. With this group of young receivers, it’s going to be baptism under fire. They’re going to gain a little bit of confidence, a little bit of experience, a little bit of exposure. The more they play, the more that they’ll start to get a sense of the pace of the game, the speed of the game.”

Through two games of the season, Highsmith is the third-leading wide receiver on the team — solely on the strength of his performance against Connecticut. Highsmith is also the leading freshman wideout on the team. Adams has two catches for 26 yards, and neither Todd Harrelson nor Jheranie Boyd have registered a catch so far this season.

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