Beleaguered North Carolina 'D' looks to keep Virginia Tech from putting up big numbers

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CHAPEL HILL, North Carolina — Maybe this is the week North Carolina's beleaguered defense will finally catch a break.

Or maybe it's the week Virginia Tech — and its rather pedestrian offense — becomes the latest team to hang a big number on the Tar Heels.

North Carolina (2-2, 0-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) has allowed 70 and 50 points in its past two games.

The challenge is to keep the Hokies (3-2, 0-1) from doing the same thing.

No power-conference team is allowing more yards (543) or points (44) per game than UNC. It ranks 123rd nationally in scoring defense and 120th in total defense.

Coach Larry Fedora says the 50-35 loss at Clemson is deceptive because the Tar Heels held the Tigers to 92 yards rushing — although they also allowed six touchdown passes.

"When you look at the whole body of work, and you really break it down, there were some really good things," Fedora said Monday. "You hold them under 100 yards (rushing). We had multiple guys getting to the football. We tackled much better. So there were some bright spots defensively, yes."

But clearly not enough of them.

For the second straight week, North Carolina's defense was responsible for a rewrite of a record book.

Clemson freshman DeShaun Watson set a school record with his six touchdown passes in the victory — with four of them covering at least 33 yards.

"As a front seven, we did what we were supposed to do — we stopped the run," defensive tackle Ethan Farmer said. "We've just got to get better in the secondary."

That came after a humiliating loss at East Carolina in which the Tar Heels gave up school-records of 70 points and 789 total yards.

"We understand how good East Carolina is," said Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer, whose team lost at home to the Pirates the week before they routed UNC.

"That's No. 1. No. 2 is some breakdowns," Beamer added. "They had some breakdowns and they cause long plays. It's been most of the long plays that got the stats like that but if you look at them, they're very, very capable."

It might be the Hokies' turn to pad the stat sheet.

"You cannot fall into that trap," Tech quarterback Michael Brewer said. "If you give them life and let them make some plays and stick around, they're going to be really tough."

Virginia Tech is 63rd in total offense, 69th in scoring and doesn't rank better than the mid-50s in any of the major offensive yardage categories.

While that's markedly better than the Hokies were last year — when they had the second-worst total offense in the ACC — their current average of 421 total yards is only good enough for 10th in the league.

Brewer, a transfer from Texas Tech, has an ACC-best 118 completions in five starts but also has thrown 10 interceptions — tied for the most in the conference.

Fedora intimated that it might be up to the offensive and special teams units to help bail out the Tar Heels' defense, saying "you have to understand when one side's down, you have to pick them up."

North Carolina is scoring in bunches — leading the league with an average of 40.8 points — but also is giving up points at an even higher pace.

"I don't have the luxury of being a fan and saying, 'This side is the reason we didn't win the football game,'" he added. "There's going to come times when the offense is going to struggle and the defense is going to have to pick it up, and they're going to have to make it happen for the offense."


AP Sports Writer Hank Kurz Jr. in Blacksburg, Virginia, contributed to this report.


Follow Joedy McCreary on Twitter at http://twitter.com/joedyap

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