On a cold Thursday night in late October 2009, North Carolina’s front seven held Virginia Tech to 95 yards en route to a stunning 20-17 victory. That win marked UNC’s first over the Hokies since Frank Beamer’s crew joined the ACC in 2004, and coincidentally, it also marked the first time the Tar Heels had outrushed their Coastal Division rivals from Blacksburg.
Entering Saturday’s game, Virginia Tech had won seven of the eight contests over UNC since ’04, while holding the rushing edge in each win.
Through the first five games of the season, UNC ranked 16th nationally and third in the ACC in run defense (95.6). After suffocating Virginia Tech’s ground game, the Tar Heels now rank 11th nationally in run defense (86.3).
Louisville (183 yards on 43 carries) and East Carolina (109 yards on 33 carries) are the only two opponents to rush for over 100 yards. The other four teams were held to 80 rushing yards or less.
UNC head coach Larry Fedora discussed his team’s defensive approach with reporters following the game.
“We felt like if we could make them one-dimensional and you hold them to 40 yards rushing, we didn’t feel like they would beat us throwing the ball today,” he said. “We really didn’t and they didn’t. Yes, they had some yards and we knew they’d have some yards, but you’ve still got to put it in the end zone and they weren’t able to do that [on Saturday].”
For a front seven that includes early-round NFL draft picks in defensive tackle Sylvester Williams and middle linebacker Kevin Reddick, run defense is all about pride.
“Those guys up front, our front seven, that’s what we hold ourselves accountable for,” Reddick said. ”We want to stop the run and that’s what we did; we made them one dimensional. Yeah, they got some passing yards on us, but once you hold them to one thing, it takes a lot from them.”
There’s no magic potion or deceptive scheme involved, according to Reddick.
“The key is just being in the right fit,” the New Bern, N.C. product said. “Coaches stress that a lot – stop the run. It’s been like that since I’ve been at Carolina. Stop the run and make sure you’re in the right gap, the right fit, read your keys and it will all work out.”
Virginia Tech entered Saturday’s contest averaging 149.6 rushing yards per contest, but managed just 1.6 yards per carry against the Tar Heels.
North Carolina’s next two opponents – Miami and Duke – rank 89th (134.2) and 95th (126.0) respectively, in rushing offense.