North Carolina's defense was expected to be a strength of the 2009 Tar Heels and it certainly looked like it on Saturday night, as the Tar Heels (1-0) allowed The Citadel just 153 total yards in claiming a 40-6 blowout victory.
The UNC defense held the Bulldogs (0-1) to just eight first downs and only 30 rushing yards, while forcing four turnovers (three interceptions and one fumble recovery) and allowing just 2.6 yards per play over the course of the ball game.
"We felt like our defense was going to play extremely well," said UNC head coach Butch Davis. "I think our speed, our ability to put pressure on the quarterback, the ability to minimize run after the catch and minimize big plays---they just did a great job of creating turnovers and handling some sudden-change situations."
"I think we went out and did our job and dominated. We went out there and communicated," said Da'Norris Searcy. "Most all of us (in the starting defense) have been in the system three years so Coach Davis expects a lot out of us, and we know what Coach Davis expects, so we went out there and got the job done."
While the effort was impressive, one of the team's biggest defensive stars, junior Deunta Williams, who had two interceptions, was a little disappointed after the game that the Tar Heels were unable to get the shut out.
"The only thing I wish we could have changed a little bit was the 'doughnut,'" Williams said. "We had the 'doughnut' going and I thought we were going to keep it, but I was a little mad when they made that field goal (in the fourth quarter)."
It was the first time in his collegiate career that Williams had multiple interceptions in a single game, but he easily could have had a couple more.
"Yes, that is (the first time I've had two interceptions) in college. I should have had four, to be honest with you," he said. "I should have dove on the first one, and I don't know what happened on that last one. I think the guy hit my arm or something. I don't know."
"I told you guys I was going to make plays," Williams added. "I felt like last year I wasn't in position to make a lot of plays, and I just worked on trying to put myself into position (for interceptions). I actually had a dream about having three 'picks' today, so I was telling some of the guys about it. It almost came true."
It took a while for the UNC offense to get going---the Tar Heels didn't score until the second quarter, which Williams attributed to some early-season butterflies---but with the UNC defense on cruise control, it made little difference when Carolina finally did score.
"I was just waiting for our offense to kick in," he said. "We had a lot of guys with first-time jitters and stuff like that. I just knew they were going to get it going, and I think we did a little bit later."
One of the biggest keys in UNC's solid defensive effort was the pass rush that relentlessly pressured Citadel quarterback Bart Blanchard the entire game.
Blanchard was sacked twice and spent the game running for his life from the Tar Heel defenders, particularly defensive ends such as Robert Quinn, E.J. Wilson, Michael McAdoo, and Donte Paige-Moss.
In all, UNC had five official quarterback hurries over the course of the evening.
"I think we played great, going from the starters to the younger guys. I think we played great as a whole," said Quinn, who had one of the UNC sacks and finished with three tackles, two quarterback hurries, one tackle for loss, and one forced fumble.
"I was just trying to get quarterback sacks and just create plays. I was just out there trying to make plays," he added.
"I think that (getting a good pass rush against The Citadel) makes us feel pretty good, because we know that a lot of teams aren't going to be in 'Shotgun' the whole game," said Wilson. "That makes us feel more comfortable for the drop-back, because the (the defensive backs) actually have to get back there with the speed we have up front and in the linebackers and even in the secondary when we run blitzes, that makes me feel real good."
Quinn's incredible combination of size and speed has earned the admiration of his teammates, and can be quite intimidating for an opposing offensive lineman to try and deal with, not to mention the opposing backs and receivers he tackles.
"I call him (Quinn) 'Hercules,'" said Williams. "He's more chipped-up than some of the DBs. You should see his chest when he takes his shirt off and is walking around. He looks like a little Hercules out there. He's so strong running, too. It's funny. One time Shaun (Draughn) ran a route during training camp and he was step-for-step with Shaun. That's a little crazy."
"I've got a year under my belt to see if I can make some improvements in my pass rush, and I try to go out there and work on the little things---the fundamentals---getting the O-lineman's hands down and getting my hips around just to get that pressure on the quarterback," Quinn said. "I guess they (opposing offensive linemen) expect me as a defensive lineman not to be the fastest guy out there, but I guess I do give them a little shock."
"I guess they don't expect anyone to run 10, 15, however many yards it is to come and catch them---especially a D-linemen---so I guess it is a little shock, that awkward look, like, 'What are you doing around me?" Quinn added.
With the game well in hand down the stretch the Tar Heels were able to work several of its backup players---including all of the second-team players and many of the third-team players---into the game for some critical action.
"I think it's so valuable when you get opportunities (for lots of guys to play) because we haven't had many of those (games) in the preceding two seasons," said Davis. "We're going to need that valuable opportunity to grow some experience and grow some depth."
"To miss out on a shutout---it would have been nice---but not at the expense of playing all those kids," Davis added.
"It's real important (to get guys playing time), because any play a starter could go down, and we're going to need a backup to come in and step up and play that role," said Quinn.