The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Thursday May 26th

UNC secondary overcomes penalties, mistakes

But when mistakes were made in Saturday’s game against Virginia, each UNC cornerback and safety moved forward, not backward. They forgot the play ever happened.

So after senior cornerback Malik Simmons committed two defensive pass interference penalties on the same fourth quarter drive, the secondary did forget. And four plays later, senior linebacker Shakeel Rashad snatched an interception in the end zone, helping the Tar Heels maintain their lead and eventual 26-13 victory over the Cavaliers (2-5, 1-2 ACC).

The Tar Heels (6-1, 3-0 ACC) committed 13 penalties for 135 yards. Entering the game, North Carolina averaged only 5.2 penalties and 39.5 penalty yards per game. Four of the penalties were committed by the secondary — three pass interference and one facemask.

Despite it all, the defense allowed only 148 passing yards and notched four interceptions, a season-high.

“(The players) never panic. They really don’t,” Coach Larry Fedora said. “They’re a pretty tight group. They feel good about themselves.

“When they say ‘I got your back,’ they mean it. It doesn’t matter what you do — it’s not conditionally. They feel like they’re going to take care of each other.”

Simmons’ two penalties came during Virginia’s second drive of the fourth quarter. The senior cornerback said when he has good position, he will get his head around and find the ball. But if not, he prefers to look at the receiver’s hands.

Both times, the referees determined Simmons didn’t turn quickly enough. The calls made little difference to the senior — there was no dip in his confidence.

“Well, the first one, I didn’t agree with it, but you have to keep playing,” Simmons said, discussing his penalties. “I’ll give them the second one because I didn’t turn around. But we always have the mentality in our mind of ‘go to the next play.’”

Simmons moved forward. And later in the fourth quarter, he grabbed his second interception of the game.

Senior safety Sam Smiley, who intercepted a pass and committed a facemask penalty, echoed Simmons’ sentiment.

“We’re just playing hard,” said Smiley, describing the secondary’s performance this season. “Being in the right place is everything.”

On the season, the Tar Heels have limited offenses to just 137.3 passing yards per contest and only six passing touchdowns. Nationally, UNC ranks second in passing yards allowed per game and tied for eighth in passing touchdowns allowed.

Fedora said most of the mistakes are correctable and the leadership in the locker room is carrying the team. He added even though the play was sloppy at times, UNC did what was necessary to win a Coastal Division game.

“We’re going to point out the problems that we have, but how we overcame them is very important,” Fedora said. “There is going to be more problems coming in the future, there’s no doubt about it. Some of them we’ll create ourselves and some of them the other team we play will create it for us.

“And we’ll have to find a way to overcome them.”

@BenColey15

sports@dailytarheel.com



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