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The Daily Tar Heel

North Carolina limits Blue Devils to 113 passing yards

Lewis struggles with man coverage

In the aftermath of North Carolina’s 19-6 victory against Duke, Blue Devil quarterback Thaddeus Lewis barely hesitated when asked where UNC’s defense rated.

“The best defense we’ve played,” Lewis said.

To say the Tar Heels’ pass defense grounded Lewis and Duke’s prolific aerial attack  would be an understatement.

Duke, which boasted the fifth best passing offense in the country before the game, only mustered 113 yards through the air Saturday, more than 200 yards below its season average.

Juniors Charles Brown and Deunta Williams both nabbed interceptions for North Carolina to add to those struggles.

UNC’s secondary mostly used man-to-man coverage to slow down the Blue Devils, but also switched to zone on several occasions to keep Lewis from getting comfortable.

“We just did a good job of breaking on the short routes, which they were going to try and nickel and dime us down the field,” Williams said. “We played really tight. We weren’t really worried about the double moves. We had guys over the top.”

The defensive backfield’s aggressiveness to close the game helped correct what transpired two weeks ago against Florida State, when Christian Ponder carved UNC up for 395 yards.

Williams, who talked early in the week about the similarities between the Seminoles’ and Blue Devils’ passing attacks, said a shift in the team’s defensive game plan made the difference.

“We went to more of a dime package, because in the second half against Florida State, we were more in the nickel,” Williams said. “We didn’t get ourselves a chance to match up with those receivers as well as we could have.”

And while the secondary did most of the heavy lifting, the defensive line did plenty themselves to disrupt Lewis’ rhythm.

Lewis constantly found himself hurried and the pocket collapsing around him, with sophomore Robert Quinn’s three sacks leading the way.

The consistent pressure forced Lewis to shift his concentration away from downfield before his receivers could get separation from UNC’s cornerbacks.

“Just relentless pressure on the quarterback,” Butch Davis said. “Not giving him time to throw, making him stay in the pocket, making him throw out of the well, making him throw off his back foot.”

But Quinn’s biggest play came when he wasn’t pursuing Lewis.

Dropped into coverage in a zone-blitz scheme with UNC clinging to a 9-6 lead in the fourth quarter, Quinn misdirected a pass just enough on 4th-and-4 to cause an incompletion and give the ball back to UNC’s offense.

The defensive line also played a huge role in shutting down Duke’s running game, limiting the Blue Devils to just 12 yards on 19 carries.

Davis said making Duke’s offense one-dimensional was a crucial aspect of what UNC’s defensive coaches planned to do to limit Lewis.

 “We didn’t allow any kind of running game to get generated,” Davis said. “You don’t want to have to start cheating the box and devoting a whole lot of extra people to stopping the run.”

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