What happened to UNC football’s defense? What do DC Gene Chizik, Tar Heels do now?

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North Carolina’s Gene Chizik used the words “catastrophic,” “disastrous” and “nightmare” Monday in discussing UNC’s fourth-quarter defensive collapse against Georgia Tech.

To which many UNC fans, hearing that, likely will nod their heads. Yep, yep, yep.

The Tar Heels took a 35-24 lead in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s game in Atlanta. They then gave up 22 points, 246 rushing yards and 265 yards in total offense in losing 46-42.

UNC coach Mack Brown called it “awful” after the game and doubled-down on it Monday, saying, “We were absolutely awful, as bad as we’ve been since we’ve been here.”

Brown then turned it over to Chizik, UNC’s defensive coordinator, to go into the details.

Chizik, as many coaches do, took the blame for the dreadful fourth-quarter showing while also crediting Georgia Tech’s timely use of tempo and well-executed running plays, both by tailbacks Jamal Haynes and Dontae Smith and quarterback Haynes King.

Chizik called the fourth quarter “your worst nightmare” and it was all of that for UNC (6-2, 3-2 ACC), which now could be hard-pressed to finish in the top two in the ACC and make a return to the conference championship game.

“Tempo was an all-night tempo issue, but going into the fourth quarter I think we had given up somewhere around 100 yards rushing for the game, so we weren’t far off track,” Chizik said.

That changed, quickly.

The Jackets had hurt the Heels with the passing game in the first half, using their speed at wideout and some quick throws by King to gain 268 yards. UNC adjusted to give the secondary more help, only to have the Yellow Jackets turn to the running game.

After running just six plays in the third quarter, Jackets started the fourth by going 88 yards in nine plays for a touchdown, gashing the UNC defense eight times with runs and never facing a third-down situation. They added a two-pointer and it was 35-32, UNC.

The Heels countered with a TD on Drake Maye’s 35-yard pass to Doc Chapman – after Chapman ran back the kickoff 55 yards – but the Jackets’ Smith soon had a 70-yard scoring run up the middle. Following key blocks from center Weston Franklin and pulling guard Joe Fusile, Smith was not touched until at the goal line.

UNC linebacker Cedric Gray, one of the team’s senior leaders, said after the game that the defense looked “confused” and added that the Heels “didn’t know what we were doing defensively.”

Brown and Chizik said Monday that was a “heat of the moment” comment made in frustration by a team captain after a tough loss.

“There were some times in the game because of the tempo and how fast they were going that it probably felt like that to Ced,” Chizik said. “We’ll address that in making sure everybody knows where they’re supposed to be and what they’re supposed to be doing. I think a lot of times when things get hairy and things are moving fast, sometimes it has that feel.”

But Georgia Tech did make UNC look bad at times. With seven minutes left in the quarter, King made one of those plays that will stay on the Jackets’ football highlights package all season.

On an option play, King saw UNC defensive end Kaimon Rucker quickly closing in as he was handing off to tailback Dontae Smith. King forcibly yanked the ball away from Smith, cut up the middle and was off on a 52-yard run that took everyone by surprise – a “catastrophic run,” as Chizik put it, using his football vernacular.

King’s run set up the go-ahead score with 4:28 to play, the quarterback scrambling to his right and hitting Brett Seither for a 5-yard touchdown with Seither just getting a foot in-bounds on a terrific end-zone catch.

“We have to run/fit better, especially when the tempo is going fast,” Chizik said. “And we’ve got to do a better job, this late in the season, to working back to fundamentals of being able to tackle in open space.”

It’s not as if the Heels won’t be seeing it all again. As Chizik said, what Virginia and Georgia Tech ran offensively in beating UNC will be used again as “go-to things” – by Campbell this week at Kenan Stadium, then later by Duke, Clemson and N.C. State to close out the ACC regular season.

“That all falls on me,” Chizik said. “I have to do a better job of positioning these guys. We have to do a better job coaching the run/fits on some problematic plays, for sure. …

“This week we will make sure that in the month of November, some of these ugly things don’t rear their heads again.”

Tez Walker update

UNC said wide receiver Tez Walker, shaken up late in the game by a blindside hit that forced a fumble, was cleared medically. Walker, down on the field for several moments after the play, was kept overnight in Atlanta as a precautionary move and flew back Sunday.

UNC said it would monitor the condition of wide receiver Nate McCollum (lower-body injury) and and running back Caleb Hood (upper-body) in practice this week.