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For the second consecutive week, North Carolina's performance left its head coach saying he didn't know exactly what went wrong in the loss. And for the second consecutive week, missed tackles showed up as the Achilles Heel for UNC.
The problem in UNC's 55-31 loss wasn't that guys weren't in the right position to stop East Carolina's steamrolling offense, it was that defensive backs, linebackers and corners were consistently unable to execute for a stop.
Whether it was merely not quite grabbing a ball carrier for a stop, or missing an assignment based on in-unit miscommunication, the defense missed tackles consistently throughout the game in allowing the Pirates offense 603 total yards and the most points ever in the UNC-ECU series.
Linebacker Jeff Schoettmer believes that the amount of ability the North Carolina defense has is not to blame for its mistakes, but saw a disjointed defensive squad in ECU's early possessions that established a habit in-game that was then hard for UNC to shake.
"We have a great D-line," he said. "They do great jobs for us. Linebackers need to fit the gaps a little better but it's a team effort really. Today we were not on the same page for some of the game, there's some calls where the linebackers aren't relaying with the secondary and we're kind of on some different pages - that was at the beginning of the game, ECU was tempo-ing us."
"Toward the second quarter and more toward the end of the game we were more on the same page, but I mean there were some times where we weren't on the same page and that was kind of obvious."
East Carolina scored two touchdowns in the first quarter before North Carolina could get on the board. The tempo of ECU's play, Schoettmer said, was something that attributed to the demise of the defense.
"First drive, the tempo was pretty quick," he said. "We knew they were going to tempo us but we didn't, I guess, prepare enough for how fast they were going to go, or we didn't expect them to go that fast. That's not an excuse though, at all, we've got to adjust after the first drive and have to be ready for it and I don't think we did a good enough job on that."
North Carolina's defense's slowed adaption to ECU's pace was further slowed by it's inability to stop an already-speeding team due to poor core defensive technique, senior defensive tackle Tim Jackson said.
"If you're in position to make a play and you don't make a play, that comes down to fundamentals, something we've just got to get better at," he said. "I know I missed a couple of plays in the backfield when I should've made it… it's tough. Other times, they probably out-schemed us, or whatever you want to call it, that's tough as well. It's tough to lineup every down (and) not know what's going to happen."
Two of UNC's strongest defensive contributors, Norkeithus Otis and Darius Lipford, were smaller factors in the Tar Heels defense against the Pirates. Otis and Lipford were minimized, their teammates say, by force.
"(ECU) know(s) that Norkeithus and Darius are good off the edge and can run things down," Schoettmer said. "So they did kind of try to take them out of the game by tightening the splits and trying to run it up the middle to hurt us there, and (ECU would) have (Otis and Lipford) squeeze and bounce (the ball) out and make our secondary make tackles, kind of hurt us there as well."
As ECU dismantled North Carolina's defense, quarterback Shane Carden targeted 11 different receivers for receptions for 376 passing yards.
"It's always tough on defensive backs when they're subbing different receivers and they're fresh," Kareem Martin said. "It's always hard playing a fresh guy who may send you thirty yards down the field on a streak, and then they some in another guy and hit you with a come back so it's tough."
But even trying to keep up with a multitude of fresh bodies was not what Martin said was the most taxing task for the defense, it was the Pirate running back squad that reeked havoc on UNC and separated the team in statistics.
Vintavious Cooper rushed for 196 yards while Jimmy Williams, Quataye Smyre and Carden combined on the ground for a team total 227 rushing yards.
"I think that we just couldn't stop the run, and that was the biggest thing all (day)," Martin said.
UNC's defense did get in position and begin to recognize the dominant scheme it'd see from East Carolina and the players got to where they needed to be on the field - something that members of the unit commend - but the complete unraveling came in that it still couldn't make stops.
"The good thing about it is we have guys in position to make plays, but we just aren't finishing," Schoettmer said. "We've got some young guys out there - including myself - we don't have a lot of experience, haven't started a lot of games, and I think as the season progresses we'll get better at that but I mean it's a glaring mistake we've got to correct now because you can't have that many missed tackles in a game."
"We had a lot of missed arm tackles, where if we just wrap our arms and hold on, they'll go down but we didn't do that."