CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — Gene Chizik had seen just about everything in the more than three decades since he first took a college coaching job. That was until North Carolina’s game at Appalachian State, where the Tar Heels won despite surrendering 40 points in the fourth quarter.
Now the Tar Heels’ defensive coordinator is trying to determine how to fix problems that led to what he called a final-quarter “implosion” against the Mountaineers, along with issues from the season-opening win against Florida A&M.
“We know there’s issues we’ve got to fix,” Chizik said. “That’s obvious. But there’s definitely a fine line between knowing what you’ve got to fix and panicking. I’ll never be a panicker. There’s certainly urgency and our players know that.”
After the 63-61 win at Appalachian State, the Tar Heels (2-0) are playing their second straight road game against a Sun Belt Conference team Saturday at Georgia State. They rank as one of the worst defenses in the Bowl Subdivision, with an offense covering for those issues behind quarterback Drake Maye.
Of the 16 FBS teams that have played two games as of Thursday, only Hawaii (112) has allowed more points than UNC (85). Only Hawaii (1,013) and Charlotte (1,041) have allowed more yardage than the Tar Heels (999).
“I’ve got total confidence in Gene Chizik,” coach Mack Brown said.
Chizik was Brown’s defensive coordinator at Texas when the Longhorns won the national championship for the 2005 season. He also worked at UNC under Larry Fedora and turned one of the nation’s worst defenses in 2014 to adequate in 2015, which was a key reason why the Tar Heels won their Atlantic Coast Conference division.
Now he has taken over a unit that allowed 32.1 points last season under Jay Bateman, finishing with a late collapse at North Carolina State followed by a bad start in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl loss to South Carolina. But unlike last time, when the Tar Heels allowed 19 or fewer points in six of the first seven games, there hasn’t been a quick start.
Chizik pointed to multiple concerns last weekend. He often saw 10 players executing correctly and one player failing to do so. He saw missed tackles. He wants his secondary to play the ball better in the air. Brown noted there were seven defensive penalties.
“Nobody wants to be in position to give up 40 in the fourth quarter or have missed assignments,” defensive back Cam’Ron Kelly said. “It definitely is a surprise but it’s nothing that can’t be fixed.”
Chizik does have at least one positive to cite: the Tar Heels held the Mountaineers scoreless from the 14:18 mark of the second quarter until early in the fourth. He’s hoping the team can replicate that consistency for longer.
“We’re learning our guys, we’re learning what they can do and what they can adjust to, and that is an adjustment period,” Chizik said. “But for me, I’ve just been through too much (to panic). I hope there’s not another first. But if there is, we’ll deal with that, too.”
North Carolina (2-0) at Georgia State (0-1), Saturday, noon ET (ESPNU)
Line: North Carolina by 7 1/2, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.
Series record: North Carolina leads 1-0.
WHAT’S AT STAKE?
North Carolina needs to get its defensive act together after surrendering 40 points in the fourth quarter of last weekend’s 63-61 victory over Appalachian State. Georgia State has an experienced offense that can cause some problems. The Panthers are hosting a Power Five team for the first time. They are eager for a big victory in front of their home crowd to show how far the program has come during its 13-year existence.
North Carolina QB Drake Maye vs. the Georgia State secondary. In his first two games as the Tar Heels starter, Maye threw nine touchdown passes with no interceptions. The Panthers are led by CB Quavian White, who had two interceptions, two tackles for losses including a sack, a pass breakup and five tackles in a season-opening loss to South Carolina. White now shares the school record for career interceptions with nine.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
North Carolina WR Kobe Paysour. The second-year player helped fill the void with top receiver Josh Downs sidelined in last week’s win at Appalachian State. Paysour finished with eight catches for 92 yards and a touchdown. If Downs is sidelined again, Paysour could have another prominent role.
Georgia State RBs Tucker Gregg and Jamyest Williams. The duo both rank among the top seven career rushers in school history. Since the start of the 2020 season, Gregg and Williams combined for 1,812 yards and 18 touchdowns last season.
FACTS & FIGURES
The Tar Heels won last year’s meeting against the Panthers 59-17 in Chapel Hill. … Georgia State surrendered two blocked punts for touchdowns in its 35-14 loss at South Carolina. … The Tar Heels are 2-0 for the third time in four seasons during Mack Brown’s second tenure with the program. ,.. Georgia State is playing back-to-back Power Five opponents for the first time in program history. … This is the second straight road game for the Tar Heels against a Sun Belt opponent. … The 124 combined points in the win against Appalachian State marked the highest-scoring game in Tar Heels history. … The Panthers are 1-13 against Power Five opponents. Their lone win was a 38-30 upset at Tennessee in the 2019 opener. … Georgia State plays at Center Parc Stadium, which opened in 1996 as Centennial Olympic Stadium and was converted to a baseball park known as Turner Field that was home of the Atlanta Braves for 20 years before the Panthers took over the stadium in 2017.