The battle at the line of scrimmage will be a key on Saturday, as North Carolina enters the game leading the country in defensive rushing yards allowed per game, with an average of just 54 through the opening two games of the season.
Co-defensive coordinator Jay Bateman said the key to finding defensive success against the Hokies will be the Tar Heels’ safeties identifying runs sooner and attacking the line of scrimmage.
“I think our run defense has been good, I think to make it even more improved, it’s the fit of the safeties,” Bateman said. “I think it’s the safeties being a little bit more aggressive when they need to be.”
In the Hokies' opening matchup of the season against N.C. State, the team put up an impressive performance, blowing out the Wolfpack 45-24.
Brown said the Hokies — who moved into the AP poll for the first time this week at No. 19 — have been underrated so far this year.
“They should be a top-10 team, they’re really good, they’re 2-0 and they’ve had a lot of people out,” Brown said. “They are really underrated and that shows you the fallacy of early-season ratings in my estimation.”
Offensive coordinator Phil Longo said a key for North Carolina’s offense — which has occasionally looked sloppy, allowing four turnovers already this season — will be staying patient with fewer opportunities to go deep as teams have adjusted their coverage to combat UNC’s air raid attack so far this year.
“We want the big yards and we want the big catches, the deep balls and the quick touchdowns, it makes life easier for all of us,” Longo said. “They’re not going to align close to the line of scrimmage and just let us take shots, which in some games that’s what we we’re given last year.
"So I think people are going to try and make us earn it.”
With the Tar Heels continuing to climb up the rankings — entering the top 10 this week for the first time since 2015 — Brown said UNC’s focus is on continuing to find success in its remaining games.
“Understanding that early rankings don’t make any difference,” Brown said. “And I told them ‘the good thing for you is that people have given you the respect that they feel like you should be there. The tough thing is that you’ve got to earn it to stay,’ that’s very important going forward.”
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