"We had some misalignments on defense early, we had some missed tackles early," Brown said. "I think that's gonna happen now with modern football because you don't tackle as much in preseason."
For the Tar Heels, those mistakes started to go away after the first quarter. In South Carolina's first two drives of the game, the Gamecocks amassed 133 yards and 10 points. They only had 137 yards the rest of the game, scoring 10 more points the rest of the way.
As the game went on, the defense got its feet set underneath it. Surratt, playing linebacker for the first time in his college career, led the team with tackles at 12 to go along with a sack, a hurry and a pass breakup.
"We gotta go back to our fundamentals," senior lineman Jason Strowbridge said. "It might have been first game jitters or whatever, but I just think really trying to focus on our fundamentals week in and week out, that'll really help us."
Despite the improved defense, North Carolina trailed 20-9 entering the fourth quarter. The offense had no problem making it down the field, but faltered in the red zone, playing a conservative game that resulted in three short-range field goals.
Last year, the Tar Heels probably would have folded, or gotten just close enough to give their fans hope before some critical mistake would give the game away.
This year, the defense stepped up, shutting out South Carolina in the fourth quarter en route to 15 unanswered points to win the game.
"(Fourth quarters have) definitely been a problem in the past," Surratt said. "I think (this time) it was our conditioning. You know, that mindset of what Coach Brown said, of 'Get in the fourth quarter and see if they'll bleed.' And that's what we did."
The highlight of the game came when Myles Wolfolk caught an interception late in the fourth quarter from South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley to give UNC possession with under five minutes left to play. Then North Carolina went three and out with its rookie quarterback, and gave the Gamecocks the ball back, down four on UNC's 26 yard line.
Then Wolfolk went out and caught another pick — exactly the type of play the Tar Heels never made in 2018.
"I wouldn't say (the defense) was bad last year," Wolfolk said. "It was different, definitely. We went through a lot and there was a lot of things we didn't do right on our part, and that's the difference between this year and last year. This year we came out and emphasized the details and we came out in the second half and addressed them."
Going forward, North Carolina will have to rely on players like Wolfolk to continue to make those same game-winning plays. The team has a young group of defenders along with veterans like Wolkfolk, Strowbridge and Myles Dorn, and the defense will need to stay strong against Miami next Saturday.
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