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The Daily Tar Heel

Young UNC football defenders step up in loss to Georgia

Sophomore defensive end Malik Carney (53) wraps Georgia running back Nick Chubb (27) as he tackles him.

Sophomore defensive end Malik Carney (53) wraps Georgia running back Nick Chubb (27) as he tackles him.

Jalen Dalton, penciled in as the team’s starting defensive tackle, played approximately 30 snaps in UNC’s 33-24 loss to Georgia. Tyler Powell and Dajaun Drennon didn’t play, leaving UNC vulnerable to the Bulldogs’ vaunted rushing attack.

“There’s a little bit of mix-and-matching going on right now for a lot of different reasons ...” defensive coordinator Gene Chizik said. “But there’s some question marks in terms of guys that we’re counting on experience-wise.”

Football is all about the next man up, though — and Malik Carney filled that role.

The redshirt sophomore recorded 12 tackles and no sacks in three games last season. But Carney was thrust into the starting lineup for Saturday’s game in Atlanta and performed well.

“I was really proud of him,” Chizik said. “It’s a big man’s game down there — he’s not a big man for that position. And all of that being said, I thought he really played tough, played physical. He needs to continue to improve, and I think he’ll do that with experience.”

The position is a new one for Carney, who was recruited as an outside linebacker in 2014 but changed to defensive end in his first year when Chizik arrived before the 2015 season.

Carney finished with five tackles and half a sack on Saturday. He showed great promise as a run-stopping defensive end and got after the quarterback on passing downs. Despite being a bit undersized at 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds, Carney more than held his own against Georgia’s huge offensive tackles.

But Carney didn’t see it that way.

“I told myself that I feel like I made one too many mistakes,” Carney said. “As a player, I felt like I can improve and get better on the things I messed up on, and just get those things corrected. But I felt like I had an OK game.”

Carney did help the Tar Heel pass rush to a strong performance for the first game of the season. North Carolina tallied four sacks from a variety of players and positions. Chizik teased more diverse play calls during training camp, and he and the team certainly delivered on those promises.

Senior Mikey Bart said he liked how the defensive line played and how the unit is trending forward. He was also proud of the way some underclassmen, especially Carney, stepped up to fill in for absent veterans.

“Malik has a high ceiling,” Bart said. “He’s undersized, but he uses it to his advantage. He’s real quick. But even though he is a little smaller, that doesn’t mean that he’s not up there with us on physicality and strength.

“I think once he gets a hang of the defense better, with just more experience and more playing time — look for him come game three or four and he’ll really be a force out there.”

@bauman_john

sports@dailytarheel.com

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