CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Early last season, a negative feeling arose around UNC football’s defense.
The defense looked bad, and ultimately — it was.
The Tar Heels gave up 61 points in a two-point win at Appalachian State in the second game of the season. They then allowed 45 points to Notre Dame in their first loss of the season three weeks later. From that point on, the defense’s struggles were well known.
By the end of the year, the Tar Heels still ranked last in the ACC in defense.
But as members of the team took to the podium at ACC Football Kickoff on July 27, senior linebacker and last season’s ACC leader in tackles, Cedric Gray, pushed back on those narratives.
“It definitely leaves a bad taste in my mouth when people talk about our team and talk about how bad of a defense we've been sometimes,” Gray said. “Especially being the leader of a defense, I kind of take that personally.”
After giving up an average of 39.5 points in four non-conference games, the Tar Heels’ defense saw a drastic improvement in conference play, improving to 25.8 points allowed per game.
Gray also said he thought UNC was playing its best defense late last season. Despite the fact that the Tar Heels lost their last four games of the season, there seems to be a belief that they can build off the positive foundation from the end of last season.
“I think we've done a lot of different things this offseason to improve,” Gray said. “I think, first and foremost, our (defensive line) has improved tremendously. I think we've added some new wrinkles to the pass rush game.”