CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – After the win over Minnesota, UNC linebacker Cedric Gray rated the teams’ performance out of 10. He gave them a seven.
Gray gave this assessment based on the fact that the Tar Heels were yet to completely blow out an opponent to the point of no return. But he had a feeling that a performance worthy of a higher grade was bound to happen soon and he was right.
North Carolina pummeled Syracuse 40-7 last Saturday – a showing that prompted Gray to raise the bar and this time around give his team a 10 outta 10.
“This was definitely a nine/ten type of game,” the senior said. “We played great ball on defense, only gave up one touchdown, held them to only about 200 yards total offense, 400-something passing for us and 200-something yards rushing. We played a very complete game all-around on offense and defense. I’m proud.”
One of the challenges coming into the game was whether or not North Carolina’s defense would be able to contain Orange quarterback Garrett Shrader, whose dominant play-making abilities were thought to pose a challenge on Saturday.
UNC’s defensive analyst Ted Monachino also spoke highly of Shrader, noting that his abilities are rare both as a runner and effective passer.
“When you talk about football players in general, you talk about those renaissance traits that guys have. They’re tough, big guys and they’re fast,” he said. “Those are all true of Shrader. He’s not afraid to put his shoulders down and run through tackles, he’s not afraid to make guys miss in space and every time he pulls the ball down he’s not looking to convert, he’s looking to score.”
The defense limited Shrader to just 124 passing yards and 28 rushing yards, his lowest numbers all season. And they refused to let the Orange gain any momentum with all 11 of their possessions lasting less than four minutes.
“We can’t come back in here after the game and say we didn’t stop Shrader,” Gray said, quoting defensive coordinator Gene Chizik. “We knew we had to stop him. So I’m glad that we went out there, executed, and were able to contain him.”
All preseason, this defensive unit kept their head down and worked towards their goals and now the fruits of their labor have been on display every week since that first game against South Carolina. Week by week, game by game, this unit has proved their dominance. They’ve provided answers on all fronts and at this point, there really shouldn’t be any question on what they can and cannot do.
“I think we’re a lot more confident this year,” Gray said. “And it doesn’t waver. Even when teams make plays or whatever happens, we just believe that we’re that good. We’re gonna make plays to impact and change the game.”
On par with his past games, Gray led the team in tackles with eight and took down Shrader for his second sack of the season. Many thought that Gray would leave for the NFL after his junior season, but there was just one thing holding him back: he has yet to win an ACC championship.
And he refuses to leave without one.
“This is a more mature group for a couple of reasons,” Gray said. “We got some older guys on the team who have been through a lot, seen a lot. But not only that, I think we’ve been through a lot thinking back to the 2021 season which was just a terrible year for us. And then last year kind of playing well and then dipping off at the end.”
Gray hasn’t been 5-0 since Little League – over ten years ago when he played with the Ballantyne Gators in his hometown, Charlotte N.C. It was about time he had a perfect record again.
“You learn from the mistakes from those previous years, you mature and grow a lot so we’re just gonna continue to go up this year,” he said.
In what could be his final year as a Tar Heel, the time is now for Cedric Gray to inch closer to his dream and get the chip. With a solid group of guys around him and a well-polished offense that will no doubt put his dream within reach, this UNC squad is primed to make a historic run for the remainder of the season.