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December 27, 2013

Familiar Face on Cincinnati Defense

When North Carolina kicks off against Cincinnati Saturday afternoon in Charlotte in the Belk Bowl, there will be a familiar face on the Cincinnati side looking to stifle North Carolina's offense.

Second-year Bearcats defensive coordinator Art Kaufman held that same title at North Carolina during the brief tenure of Everett Withers as UNC's head coach in the fall of 2011, and prior to that he was Carolina's linebackers coach for a couple seasons during the Butch Davis era.

Kaufman has done a nice job since leaving Chapel Hill, going to Texas Tech with Tommy Tuberville and then following him to Cincinnati, where this year the Bearcats put together a solid defense that gave up just 19.5 points per game and was particularly stout against the run, allowing opponents just 98.6 rushing yards per game.

"We know Coach Kaufman, the defensive coordinator there (at Cincy). I want to try to get him guessing (what we're trying to do)," said UNC quarterback Marquise Williams during Friday's pre-bowl media gathering.

Kaufman, of course, coached several of UNC's veterans during his three-year run at North Carolina (2009-2011) while helping recruit multiple current players to Chapel Hill during his time as a Tar Heel assistant.

"My freshman year he was the linebackers coach, so we didn't really interact as much except for one week when he coached the defensive line (in 2010)," said senior defensive end Kareem Martin. "My sophomore year he became our defensive coordinator, and he really had this defense going. He's a great defensive coordinator."

"I met him (Kaufman) before I signed my letter of intent. He's a great guy and I respect him. He always gave me pointers on what to do to beat a defense and stuff like that," added Williams. "He was saying what I need to do to try to beat our defense when I was running the Scout Team."

"Hopefully he doesn't even remember those pointers he gave me," added Williams with a laugh.

Earlier this week, when the UNC and Cincinnati teams got a chance for a simulated NASCAR driving experience at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the Tar Heel players briefly re-acquainted with Kaufman, which UNC head coach Larry Fedora saw as a positive given the unfortunate circumstances with which Kaufman and the other members of Davis's coaching staff had to leave North Carolina.

"It's kind of unique in this bowl experience because Art is on the other side, and Art knows all these guys, especially our older guys," said Fedora. "He (Kaufman) recruited some of them. He coached some of them. So they know him."

"I think it's a great thing for them to touch base with him, say hello. I think that's been a good thing for them (the UNC players who knew Kaufman). Because a lot of times when something like that happens, and you have a staff that dissolves and goes all over the country, a lot of times those players never see those coaches again in their lives," Fedora added.

But make no mistake---when the ball is kicked off Saturday afternoon, there will be no love lost between Kaufman and his former UNC players.

"I think it (the players' reaction will be) based on each individual player and their experiences with him," said Fedora of how the players will respond to Kaufman.

"I can't wait to see him (on Saturday). Hopefully he'll be smiling, because he usually doesn't smile that much," said Williams.

"I got to see him the other day at the Nascar (driving simulation earlier in the week), so it was good to see him. But now we're on opposite sides of the field. So there will be a little hate there Saturday," added Martin.

The UNC offense certainly has its work cut out for them figuring out a way to weave through Kaufman's aggressive Bearcats defense, which ranked second in the American Athletic Conference in sacks (35) and tied for third in interceptions (13) while holding opponents to under 20 points and 100 rushing yards on average, as previously mentioned.

The Bearcats have three players with at least 5.5 sacks---defensive lineman Silverberry Mouhon has 9.5, tied for third in the AAC, defensive lineman Jordan Stepp has 6.0 sacks, ranking sixth in the league, and linebacker Nick Temple has 5.5 sacks, which is tied for eighth in the conference.

And while only one Bearcat defender has as many as three interceptions (cornerback Deven Drane), three others have at least two interceptions, so there's plenty of proven playmakers in this Cincinnati defense that Kaufman has assembled.

Cincinnati is only giving up 3.1 yards on average against the run per play---compared to the 4.2 yards per play its offense is averaging---and through the air they're only giving up 6.4 yards per play and allowed just 15 touchdown passes against them all season.

So clearly this is a defense that could give UNC's spread offense fits.

Martin, for one, doesn't believe that Kaufman's knowledge of the UNC personnel will have much of a bearing on Saturday's game for a few reasons.

First and foremost, since Kaufman worked with UNC's defensive players mostly, he's not going to be nearly as familiar with what the Tar Heel offensive players are doing offensively, and especially since several of the team's key offensive contributors weren't around when Kaufman was.

Plus, Carolina is running a totally different offense from the one Kaufman knew when he was prowling the sidelines at UNC under Coach Davis. So there's not as much to worry about in terms of what Kaufman may know under the table about Carolina as some might think.

"I don't think it'll play a big role because he's on defense and I'm on defense, so he hasn't really scouted me or affected me personally. I think they play their roles defensively," said Martin on whether Kaufman's presence affected the defense's preparation.

But most anyone would have to admit that it's an ironic set of circumstances that out of all the college coaches this group of Tar Heels would be facing in their first bowl game since coming off NCAA probation, they would be facing a defensive coordinator who not that long ago was one of their own.

"He (Kaufman) made a comment (earlier this week) about how we all grew up," said Martin. "When he was here (at Carolina) we were all young guys trying to find our way, and now we're the leaders of the team, the guys making the plays."


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