After an offseason of hype for the North Carolina football team’s high-powered offense, it was the defense that stole the show in week one.
While UNC pulled away from Syracuse for a 31-6 victory with rapid-fire scoring down the stretch, the Tar Heels’ front seven altered the trajectory of the game from the first time they took the field.
Seven sacks — the most any UNC team has forced in a single game since 2013. For a unit that head coach Mack Brown said throughout the offseason needed some work, it was a dominant showing. That’s not to say the unit isn’t still relatively unproven — with the likes of Jason Strowbridge and Aaron Crawford graduating last year, the group is still young and inexperienced — but fresh faces protected a narrow UNC lead while the offense stagnated throughout the opening frames of the game.
“I think I was just trying to make them mad,” Brown said, talking about his comments throughout the offseason. “There’s a lot of guys out there that can rush the passer now, and I thought they did a very good job of that today.”
Utilizing a talented group of defensive backs, Syracuse initially shut down UNC's air raid offense. As the game wore on and the Tar Heels’ defense continued to force Syracuse to give over possession in early drives, there was a noticeable difference in the impact the Orange’s defensive backs unit had on the game. Syracuse was forced to punt nine times throughout the game, and UNC held control of the ball over four minutes more than Syracuse.