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Tar Heels defense performing adequately in face of off-field turmoil

Virginia will not face the vaunted North Carolina defense that many pundits were hailing as one of the best in the nation before the season began. An agent scandal has opened up the Tar Heels program to heavy scrutiny from the NCAA and, consequently, has removed several key players from North Carolina's defensive lineup.

Still, the defense Virginia will match up against Saturday at Scott Stadium will be formidable. Despite the absence of four would-be starters for most of the season*, North Carolina ranks No. 4 in the ACC in total defense (331.4 yards per allowed). The Tar Heels don't blitz a whole lot, according to Virginia Coach Mike London. They rely, instead, on their four defensive linemen playing soundly, their linebackers flying to the ball and their secondary providing tight coverage.

* Safety Deunta Williams returned last week against Clemson after serving a four-game suspension for receiving improper benefits. Cornerback Kendric Burney must miss one more game as part of his six-game suspension. Defensive tackle Marvin Austin was dismissed from the team Monday, the same day in which the NCAA ruled defensive end Robert Quinn permanently ineligible.

"They're a team that's rallied around whatever kind of adversity they've had," London said Monday. "Kind of an us‑against‑the‑world mentality. And you can see them playing like that. No matter who the guy is in the game, they've done a nice job of really playing fast and getting to the football."

North Carolina was without starting weak-side linebacker Quan Sturdivant -- who missed his second straight game because of a hamstring injury -- during its 21-16 win Saturday over Clemson. Sturdivant had entered that game leading the team in tackles (27).

But reserve linebacker Zach Brown replaced Sturdivant in the lineup and recorded a game-high 14 tackles. Brown and middle linebacker Kevin Reddick -- who tallied 10 tackles against Clemson -- now lead the team in tackles with 28. The Tar Heels held Clemson to a season-low 305 total yards.

As for a pass rush, North Carolina relies heavily on defensive tackle Quinton Coples, who leads the team in sacks (3), tackles for a loss (6) and quarterback hurries (9). Coples -- who switched from defensive end to defensive tackle before the season began -- also has recorded 26 tackles, which ties him for third on the team with strong-side linebacker Bruce Carter. The Tar Heels' other starting defensive tackle, Tydreke Powell, has registered 25 tackles.

North Carolina -- which is starting a true freshman (Tim Jackson) and a sophomore (Donte Paige-Moss) as the two defensive end spots -- ranks No. 6 in the conference in rushing defense (155.2 yards per game allowed).

The Tar Heels possess the ACC's No. 4 pass defense (176.2 yards per game allowed), even though they've been without Burney all season and just got Williams back.

By Steve Yanda  | October 12, 2010; 9:29 AM ET
Categories:  Football  
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