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Ranked Tar Heels riding a hot streak and full of confidence

Dan Murphy | Friday, October 10, 2008

Notre Dame is 16-1 all time against North Carolina. The team’s .941 winning percentage against the Tar Heels is the highest against any opponent the Irish have faced at least 12 times.

Traditionally North Carolina has been a cakewalk for the Irish. This time around it’s a much different story.

The 4-1 Tar Heels were ranked in the AP Top 25 – No. 22 – this week for the first time in seven years.

“It is a big confidence booster,” Tar Heels tailback Shaun Draughn said. “We know confidence-wise that we were a good football team, sometimes I think we don’t realize how good we can be as a team.”

Second-year head coach Butch Davis has already matched his win total from his first year at Chapel Hill when the Tar Heels went 4-8. In fact, North Carolina has not won more than four games in a season since 2005, when it went 5-7.

“We are enjoying it, no doubt,” junior quarterback Cameron Sexton said. “Football is a lot of hard work and to have some success now – we are enjoying it.”

Sexton has stepped in and led his team to two impressive wins after starting quarterback T.J. Yates went down because of an injury during the team’s only loss to Virginia Tech.

In their past two games the Tar Heels have knocked off the Miami Hurricanes and trounced No. 24 Connecticut 38-12. With Yates out of the picture, Davis’ team has been getting the job done on defense and special teams.

Sophomore linebacker Bruce Carter blocked three punts against the Huskies, one of which led directly to a Tar Heel touchdown.

“Honestly, I have only watched it one time when we watched film yesterday. I am still surprised today, so I will probably go back and watch it again sometime,” Carter said.

Along with the three blocked kicks, North Carolina also helped its field position with three interceptions off of former Irish quarterback Zach Frazer. Frazer was making his first start for Connecticut after leaving Notre Dame last year.

The three picks gave North Carolina’s defense 12 total interceptions on the year – more than any other team in the country. Safety Trimane Goddard leads the way with four on his own, but eight different players have intercepted a pass so far this season.

“What North Carolina likes to do is rush their front four and drop seven,” Irish quarterback Jimmy Clausen said. “They get a lot of pressure up front. It makes it hard on the quarterback with the front four getting a lot of pressure and seven guys drop into coverage.”

Clausen said the speedy, athletic UNC secondary is probably the toughest he has faced in his collegiate career.

“They’re pretty good, pretty fast, physical as well. So it will be a good challenge for us,” he said.

Clausen has gone 109 passing attempts since his last interception, which was during the second quarter of Notre Dame’s 23-7 loss to Michigan State on Sept. 20. His streak will definitely be put to the test tomorrow.

According to Clausen, the key to breaking down the tough zone defense is to be patient and allow his receivers to sit down in the small holes downfield.

“There are tight windows, small windows, and you have to take what they give you,” he said.

Against Connecticut, the turnovers and field position allowed North Carolina to put up 38 points despite being held to 263 total yards of offense. The Huskies picked up 10 more first downs and threw for almost 100 more yards than their opponents, but could not overcome their own mistakes.

The Tar Heels started five of their drives in Husky territory, and three more on the 40-yard line or better.

In two short years, Davis has turned around the North Carolina program and has his teams winning games in any way that they can.