Frustrating But Not Forsaken

CHAPEL HILL, N.C.--Darian Durant is on pace to break all the Tar Heel quarterback records. This season alone he is accounting for over 270 yards per game and is directing an offense that has averaged 455 yards and 36 points over the last three games. Still he remains winless on the season.

The biggest reason is that his defense is giving up an average of 522 yards per game, over seven yards per play, and just under 43 points per game. These are numbers that would make lots of quarterbacks lose faith, but not the Tar Heel signal caller.

"It gets frustrating sometimes," Durant said, "but that's just something we have to deal with… We don't mind--putting points on the board is fun."

"It's still a team," Durant added. "This same defense, last year, had some key stops, and we know they are capable of making big plays. We're never going to give up on them. It's always a team game."

Despite the losses, UNC Head Coach John Bunting perceived improvement on defense over the first four weeks of the season--including the off-week--but characterized the performance against N.C. State on Saturday as a setback.

"We may have overloaded last week, trying to get into the perfect defense for each formation," Bunting said. "That's my fault. There's a lot that happens so fast out there in front of you. There are lots of shifts and motions. We had some audibles on defense--maybe we audibled a little too much."

"I don't blame anything on Coach Bunting," freshman linebackerLarry Edwards said in response to Bunting's remark. "It's our responsibility to step up and learn our defense and learn our assignments and execute them in practice so we can do them in a game. Simplifying it will make it a little bit better, but it's still a complicated system. Everybody just has to step up and do their part.

"In high school everything was really simple. It was one-dimensional. It's a big step as far as learning zones and learning a lot more about the game [in college]. But I'm taking pride in it and focusing myself to become a better student of the game and ultimately becoming a better player."

With more and more of the young players on defense getting snaps--Edwards, Fred Sparkman, Joe Kedra--the plan is to simplify the scheme, learn the basics and let 'em play.

And despite all the struggles the defense has had, Darian Durant remains one of the biggest supporters.

"He always has faith in us and is cheering us on in practice," Edwards said. "We have to hold up our end of the bargain. He and the offense put up points, and it's our job to stop them from scoring. He gives really good support of the defense, no matter what happens. We're a team."

"Sometimes it's good for them to know that I'm in the game along with them," Durant said. "I'm not just worried about what we're doing on offense. I'm worried about this team as a whole. Every now and then I talk to Dexter or one of the guys up front: 'Hey! It's time to make a play! I'm behind you 100 percent. If you make a play, I'll make a play when it's my turn.'"

This Saturday against the Virginia Cavaliers is the next opportunity--against an offense averaging 355 yards and 30 points per game. And with Matt Schaub's return, last season's ACC offensive Player of the Year, that number is likely to rise.

If history is any indication, the likely winner of this game each year is the team that leads in total offense. The winning team has had more offense 50 times and been outgained just 11 times since 1940*, and the loser has outgained the winner just three times since 1975*.

The defense that gets a key stop could likely determine the winner on Saturday.


*A 1956 forfeit and 1984 tie not included in totals.

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