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The Daily Tar Heel

Secondary slated to meet conference’s top passers

FSU quarterback Christian Ponder shredded UNC’s secondary for 395 yards on Oct. 22, 2009. DTH File/Andrew Dye
FSU quarterback Christian Ponder shredded UNC’s secondary for 395 yards on Oct. 22, 2009. DTH File/Andrew Dye

Statistically, UNC’s secondary ranks among the very best in the country at grounding an opposing offense’s passing attack.

But with a stable of talented quarterbacks — namely Thaddeus Lewis, Jacory Harris and Russell Wilson — lined up to test it, time will soon tell whether North Carolina’s pass defense is truly dominant or just a paper tiger.

And if history is any indication, those numbers might see a steep inflation in the near future.

 UNC currently ranks No. 10 nationally in pass defense, but Kendric Burney, Deunta Williams and Co. didn’t perform up to their unit’s lofty ranking the first time they faced a top-tier passing game this season.

Christian Ponder and Florida State torched the Tar Heels for 395 yards and three touchdowns through the air — numbers that were huge outliers this season for UNC’s stingy secondary.

“It’s a shot to your pride a little bit,” Williams said.

“It’s simple mistakes. You can be aggressive if you’re doing the fundamental things right. We were aggressive and our fundamentals were not right.”

But Ponder’s outburst wasn’t a complete aberration. Last season, Notre Dame’s Jimmy Clausen threw for 383 yards and two touchdowns against North Carolina.

Burney said the problems UNC had against those quarterbacks were simple issues of miscommunication.

“We knew exactly what the play was going to be. We knew exactly where we needed to be. We just didn’t communicate to get to where we needed to be,” Burney said.

The ranking could be a result of circumstance. The rest of the teams on the Tar Heels’ schedule have not been nearly as potent as the Seminoles in passing the football.

While Florida State ranks ninth in the Football Bowl Subdivision in passing offense, the next-best passing game UNC has faced, Connecticut’s, sits at No. 39.

No other FBS opponent UNC has played has a passing offense ranked better than 80th of 120 total teams.

And if what Williams said about opposing offenses prove true, the tests facing UNC’s secondary in the upcoming weeks will be even more difficult.

“Offenses at the beginning of the season are at a disadvantage. It takes them a little bit of time to gel,” Williams said. “Defenses, we go out there and by day three we’re running and gunning.

“I think the offenses are starting to catch up a little bit more and roll a little bit more.”

Three of the four remaining teams on UNC’s schedule have passing games that statistically stack up in the top-25 nationally.

Duke, No. 5 on the list, represents the best aerial attack left on UNC’s schedule.

 But coming off a strong performance, Burney is confident UNC’s secondary can retain its reputation as a shut-down unit.

“We came out great against a good football team in Virginia Tech at Virginia Tech, so we know exactly what this team is capable of doing,” Burney said. “We’ll be all right as long as we play the Carolina football way we’ve been coached.”

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