UNC de­fend­ers plan to step up

The Herald Sun - - Sports - BY JONATHAN M. ALEXAN­DER jalexan­der@new­sob­server.com

As North Carolina pre­pares to play Duke (6-3) on Satur­day, UNC se­nior linebacker Cole Hol­comb said the mes­sage this week has been sim­ple.

“Gotta go get that bell back,” Hol­comb said. “It’s been the fo­cus all week. It’s not a good feel­ing when that bell is not at home.”

Since 1948, Duke and UNC have played for the Vic­tory Bell, a trav­el­ing tro­phy that goes to the win­ner. While UNC leads the se­ries 58-39-4, Duke has had the Vic­tory Bell in its pos­ses­sion the last two sea­sons. Duke beat UNC 28-27 in 2016, and a 27-17 in 2017.

Hol­comb, who leads the Tar Heels with 81 tack­les, wants noth­ing more than to bring the bell back to Chapel Hill.

“That would be ic­ing on the cake, hon­estly,” Hol­comb said. “For me, the way things have been go­ing, it would re­ally put things in the right di­rec­tion for this team.”

COSTLY IN­TER­CEP­TION

The 2018 sea­son was sup­posed to be a re­demp­tion year for the Tar Heels, who had suf­fered a slew of in­juries in 2017. But UNC (1-7) lost its fifth con­sec­u­tive game last week against Ge­or­gia Tech (5-4) at home 38-28. Satur­day’s game is at Wal­lace Wade Sta­dium at 12:20 p.m.

The lat­est loss was a mi­cro­cosm of how UNC’s sea­son has gone in re­cent weeks. The Tar Heels have not been able to fin­ish games.

Against Ge­or­gia Tech, UNC tied the game at 28 in the fourth quar­ter, got the ball back and had a

chance to take the lead.

But ju­nior quar­ter­back Nathan El­liott threw an in­ter­cep­tion in UNC ter­ri­tory. Ge­or­gia Tech took ad­van­tage and scored the go-ahead touch­down.

Fe­dora said the Tar Heels are bet­ter than peo­ple think.

“That’s why I keep say­ing we’re close,” Fe­dora said. “We’re a bet­ter foot­ball team than what our record in­di­cates, but we just haven’t got­ten over the hump.”

The Tar Heels’ last four losses — against Vir­ginia Tech, Syra­cuse, Vir­ginia and Ge­or­gia Tech — have come by 10 points or less.

“It’ll be nice to have every­body on the field that’s healthy, and our guys are go­ing to go out and play as hard as they can,” Fe­dora said, “and we’re go­ing to ex­pect to win a foot­ball game.”

Duke strug­gled in Oc­to­ber, los­ing to Vir­ginia on Oct. 20 and Pitts­burgh on Oct. 27. But last week the Blue Devils beat Mi­ami on the road 20-12 and are once again el­i­gi­ble for a bowl game. Fe­dora said Duke’s suc­cess starts with their quar­ter­back, 6-5, 220-pound red­shirt ju­nior Daniel Jones.

Jones has 13 touch­downs and five in­ter­cep­tions in seven games.

“He’s a re­ally good foot­ball player,” Fe­dora said. “He man­ages ev­ery­thing. You blitz him, he knows where he’s go­ing with the ball. He gets the ball out of his hands quick. He can beat you with his legs.”

Fe­dora hopes that hav­ing his top two de­fen­sive ends back from sus­pen­sion Satur­day will help slow Jones. Sopho­more de­fen­sive end Tomon Fox and se­nior de­fen­sive end Ma­lik Car­ney had both served stag­gered sus­pen­sions for sell­ing teamis­sued sneak­ers in Jan­uary.

Fox and Car­ney played to­gether in UNC’s 24-17 loss to Cal­i­for­nia on Sept. 1 in one of the Tar Heels’ best de­fen­sive per­for­mances of the sea­son. But the pair had not played to­gether since. Fox has one sack and 4.5 tack­les for loss in four games this sea­son. Car­ney has five sacks and 8.5 tack­les for loss in five games.

“We’re (about) to put on a show for every­body,” Fox said. “Yeah. Meet each other in the back­field.”

COULD RUDER OR FORTIN PLAY?

UNC has again had to deal with a num­ber of in­juries this sea­son, par­tic­u­larly at quar­ter­back. Sopho­more quar­ter­back Chazz Sur­ratt went down with a wrist in­jury on Sept. 27 against Mi­ami and has been ruled out for the sea­son.

Fresh­man quar­ter­back Cade Fortin in­jured his knee in the first half against Vir­ginia Tech on Oct. 13 and fresh­man quar­ter­back Jace Ruder in­jured his shoul­der last week against Ge­or­gia Tech. Nei­ther quar­ter­back has been of­fi­cially ruled out for the sea­son though.

When asked on Mon­day whether it was pos­si­ble ei­ther quar­ter­back could re­turn this sea­son, Fe­dora, who doesn’t talk about in­juries, said, “I haven’t listed them as out for the sea­son. So, yes.”

Ruder was spot­ted af­ter Wed­nes­day’s prac­tice walk­ing around the sta­dium in street clothes. His left (non-throw­ing) arm was still in a sling.

“We’re not go­ing to put them out there if they’re 50 per­cent and get hurt,” Fe­dora said. “If they’re able to go and we feel like they can help us win a foot­ball game, then we would. If not, we wouldn’t put them out there.”

UNC’s backup quar­ter­backs in­clude Manny Miles, a se­nior walk-on and An­thony Ratliff-Wil­liams, UNC’s top wide re­ceiver, who was also a for­mer high school quar­ter­back.

ROBERT WIL­LETT News & Ob­server file photo

UNC’s Cole Hol­comb, shown wrap­ping up Duke’s Shaun Wil­son in 2016, wants the Vic­tory Bell back in Chapel Hill.

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