CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina's defense has been rather dominant lately — even if it might be overshadowed by the buzz around new coach Larry Fedora's fast-paced offense.
The Tar Heels haven't allowed a touchdown in 10 quarters, and nobody has reached the end zone against them at home. Not since the second quarter of the loss at Louisville on Sept. 15 have they allowed anyone to cross the goal line.
Fedora wants his players to defend their home turf — and they've done that with their defense, posting two shutouts in three home games before this week's visit from reigning Coastal Division champ Virginia Tech.
"We have got to defend this place," Fedora said Monday. "We're trying to build something about playing at home and what it means, and we want to continue what we've done. That's very important to us as we build this program to where we want it to be."
And while much of the preseason attention in Chapel Hill was on Fedora's rapid-fire offense, the defense has emerged from that shadow to accomplish something remarkable: This marks the first time North Carolina (3-2, 0-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) has had multiple shutouts in a season since the 1996 team finished as one of the nation's top two defenses.
The Tar Heels blanked Idaho 66-0 last week and routed Elon 62-0 in the opener. The only visitor to score so far is East Carolina kicker Warren Harvey, who had two field goals in a 27-6 loss.
"We have a good feel of how good they can be. It's a relief in that they're helping us out," quarterback Bryn Renner said. "The way they're playing gives (the offense) a ton of confidence as far as making our drives — if we do have to punt or we turn it over, they're going to stop them and pick us up."
The defense could keep it going this week against the Hokies (3-2, 1-0). They rank 85th nationally and 10th in the ACC in total offense, and aren't better than 61st in the country in any of the four major offensive stat categories.
Tech is averaging roughly 20 points in three games against teams from the six power leagues. The offense sputtered early in the losses to Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, prompting coach Frank Beamer to look internally for answers.
"We talked in great detail as an offensive staff about starting slow and why and so forth, and hopefully we'll be better at that this week," Beamer said, declining to elaborate on what he plans to fix because "we're going to keep it within our staff."
The Hokies have to figure out a way to move the ball against a North Carolina defense that ranks in the top 25 nationally in all four major categories — total yards allowed (16th), points allowed (19th), yards rushing allowed (16th) and pass efficiency defense (25th).
The Tar Heels allow averages of 296 total yards and just 95 on the ground — bad news for a Virginia Tech team still trying to replace NFL running back David Wilson. The Hokies' leading rusher, Michael Holmes, hasn't rushed for more than 60 yards in a game this season.
"This is a really good football team, and a hot football team," Beamer said. "I think they're playing really well right now too, so we've got our work cut out for us."
AP Sports Writer Hank Kurz Jr. in Blacksburg, Va., contributed to this report.