In the seven days since Cincinnati quarterback Munchie Legaux torched Virginia Tech for a career-high 376 passing yards, Tech's defensive backs have sat through a defensive players-only meeting, had their defensive coordinator simultaneously chastise and defend them and, perhaps above all else, tried their best to wipe the slate clean.
"You've got to have a short memory," said cornerback Kyle Fuller in the postgame aftermath of Tech's 27-24 loss to Cincinnati — a game in which he surrendered the winning 39-yard touchdown pass with 13 seconds left.
With North Carolina's lightning-quick offense waiting Saturday for Tech (3-2 overall, 1-0 Atlantic Coast Conference), Fuller's advice to his fellow defensive backs was wise, especially considering UNC's Bryn Renner is the kind of quarterback who can make giving up 300-yard passing games habit-forming for a defense.
Legaux hadn't passed for more than 217 yards in a game in his career before playing Tech, so the yardage he posted qualified as a breakout performance and illuminated coverage failures in Tech's defense.
On the other hand, Renner is making high yardage passing games look routine of late for UNC (3-2, 0-1), which is ineligible to play in the ACC championship game or a bowl this season because of NCAA sanctions.
He set a school-record for most passing yards in consecutive games when he threw for 321 yards Sept. 15 in a 39-34 loss at Louisville, and 363 yards Sept. 22 in a 27-6 win against East Carolina. Last Saturday, he passed for 231 yards, but he did it while only playing in the first half and one play in the second half of UNC's 66-0 win against Idaho.
Renner, who has completed 104 of 163 passes this season for 1,422 yards, 14 touchdowns and three interceptions, has been the primary orchestrator of new coach Larry Fedora's fast-paced, no huddle offense.
If Renner continues to put up the kind of numbers he's been posting in Fedora's spread attack, Tech could be in danger of surrendering back-to-back 300-yard passing games for the first time since 2003, when Virginia's Matt Schaub threw for 358 yards and California's Aaron Rodgers put up 394 yards in the Insight Bowl — both of which were Tech losses to end the season.
"I don't think it's going to be such a problem," Tech strong safety Kyshoen Jarrett said of UNC's up-tempo approach. "We thought Bowling Green's tempo was going to be really fast when they came out, and Cincinnati's (tempo) was pretty fast when they came out last week, and I felt like we adjusted to it pretty well. When we practice, we practice fast-paced just so we can make sure we can prepare for anything."
Fresno State and Baylor are the only two teams in the country that have had more pass plays of 25 yards or more this season than UNC (18), which is tied atop the ACC with Clemson in the category.
To make matters even more challenging for Tech, which puts a 10-game road winning streak in conference play on the line Saturday, running back Giovani Bernard is getting back into full form. He missed UNC's games against Wake Forest and Louisville with a knee injury.
Last season, he ran for a UNC freshman-record 1,253 yards. He has 213 yards and four touchdowns on just 29 carries (7.3 yards per carry) this season.
Fuller wasn't the only Tech defensive back to struggle against Cincinnati. Cornerback Antone Exum was penalized four times and missed at least two key tackles. After coming in to temporarily spell Fuller while he dealt with leg cramps, freshman cornerback Donaldven Manning was burned on back-to-back third quarter passes that went for 30 yards and a 29-yard touchdown.
On Monday, defensive coordinator Bud Foster defended Exum's effort, but Foster also blasted his unit's execution. In order to try to develop some much-needed emergency veteran depth, Tech has worked starting free safety Detrick Bonner this week at his old position of cornerback.
"I think everything that's happened is correctable," Tech coach Frank Beamer said. "We have kids that want to get it corrected, want to play at a higher level. We're working like heck to get that done."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun