The talk this Summer around North Carolina’s program was that the defense would improve under Gene Chizik. After another bad year in 2022, things had to change and a unit that saw a few different players transfer out needed to get better.
And on Saturday night, they took a big first step in proving they can be better with a dominant performance by the defensive line.
North Carolina’s defense finished with 9 sacks and 16.5 tackles for loss in the win over South Carolina, making life difficult on quarterback Spencer Rattler all game long. The Tar Heels got going early, forcing a three-and-out and the Gamecocks first possession and got better as the game went on.
I’d like to start by congratulating our defense,” Head coach Mack Brown said following the game.”South Carolina had 11 yards rushing. Rattler threw the ball so well. My experience is if you win the rushing yards, and we had 168, you usually win the game. I think its happened most every time in my 35 years but 5 or 6. Last year we had 17 sacks for the year, tonight we had 9. And we had a lot of tackles for loss. We had the ball for about 33 minutes, which was a win making sure we kept him (Rattler) on the sidelines.”
Despite giving up 14 points in the first half, the defense played well. They took it to the next level in the second half.
UNC gave up just three points in the second half, coming up with key stops twice in the red zone forcing two turnover on downs. They did so on the play of the defensive line which felt like they got pressure on almost every play.
The effort was led by Kaimon Rucker and transfer Amari Gainer who each had two sacks in the game. Rucker was a force, recording 5.5 tackles for loss in the game.
Kaimon with his 2nd Sack of the night! pic.twitter.com/pYmj1z43Fx
— Carolina Football (@UNCFootball) September 3, 2023
Linebacker Cedric Gray added 1.5 sacks to help up the middle.
“SEC opponent, held them to 17 points and only three points in the second half, I think that speaks for itself,” Gray said. “We had a lot of RedZone stops, a lot of third-down stops. I think we had nine sacks tonight, so I think that proves that we can play defense.”
There are a lot of games to be played still this season but Week 1 was a good start for this defense as they are looking to answer the call to compliment Drake Maye and the offense.