Carolina cornerback Jabari Price had shown blitz throughout the Tar Heels' game with East Carolina on Saturday. The 6'0, 195-pound junior would come up to the line of scrimmage, dance as if he intended to go forward, then sink back into coverage. Over and over he did it. "I would just see what the tackle would do," Price said after the game. "I would say I'm blitzing, say I'm blitzing, and I really wasn't."
Price said he showed blitz probably more often than he should have. "I did it from the corner spot, I did it from the safety spot, I did it a lot. I did it at times where I wasn't supposed to, so I know I'm going to get an earful from Coach Fedora tomorrow."
He may get an earful from Larry Fedora when the team reviews film on Sunday, but perhaps it will come with a wink, as Price's showing blitz set up a play on which Saturday's 27-6 Tar Heel win hinged.
At the end of the first half, Carolina missed a field goal that would have put them up a touchdown, making the game 10-6 at the intermission. East Carolina continued the momentum they took into the break by forcing a three and out on the Tar Heels' first possession of the second half. The Pirate offense drove off of their own 20 with a chance to take the lead. On 3rd and 9 at their own 33, Price lined up opposite Pirate receiver Derrick Harris. Just before the snap, he again began creeping toward the middle of the defense. ECU quarterback Shane Carden took the shotgun snap and dropped back. Perhaps Pirate left tackle Adhem Elsawi had heard Price cry wolf one too many times, because he ignored the cornerback and instead locked up with Tar Heel linebacker Tommy Heffernan. Price sprinted untouched into the Pirate backfield to make the sack.
"It felt like that was a real big turning point because we had them deep in their own territory and it was going to give our offense really great field position," defensive end Kareem Martin said. Martin got to Carden just after his teammate. "It gave us momentum, and we knew the offense was going to have good field position, so it just all clicked."
Price's sack seemed to give Carolina a renewed energy. To that point, Carden had done a good job avoiding pressure and, if not completing passes, getting rid of the ball. He'd been sacked just once - early in the first quarter - but Martin believed the quarterback was getting rattled. "Even though he wasn't hit, I think it still played an impact on him mentally," he said. "And then in the second half, we were able to get back to him a lot."
After Price's sack, the floodgates opened. The Pirates' 3rd and 9 became 4th and 22. A punt set up the Carolina offense with good field position. "That was big," wide receiver Erik Highsmith said of Price's play. "We were ready to go out there and score on offense." On the next play from scrimmage, Bryn Renner hit Sean Tapley for a 62-yard touchdown.
"I definitely felt the momentum swing. It actually swung so fast that the defense was back up and I couldn't go back, so I had to sit out the next few plays," Price said. "I was definitely weary after that play and I'm glad to make a spark for this team." On that next defensive series, a Kevin Reddick sack-fumble recovered by the Tar Heels set up another score.
Carolina would get to Carden seven times on the day for Pirate losses of 49 yards. Just as Price trusted his safeties and moved away from the receiver Harris, the Tar Heel defensive linemen believed that they could rush the backfield because of lock-down coverage in the secondary. "Our whole thing is, you've got to have confidence in your players," Heffernan said. "You can only worry about your position and what you've got to do. We have total confidence in the DBs as well as the D-line as linebackers, so coming up and pressuring the quarterback knowing that the DBs have got them locked down in the back just makes it that much easier."
Before Saturday, Jabari Price had never recorded a sack at any level throughout his football career. "Interceptions, tackle for loss, but never had a sack, so this is a day to remember," he said after the game. "What's today's date? September 22? I've got to remember that."
The sack was not only a turning point for his team, but it seemed to be a personal milestone as well. After a trial-by-fire freshman year in which he forced into action, he tore a tendon in his right hand during preseason practice in 2011. He returned to the field after missing four games, but was never quite the same, lacking confidence in the hand that swats, intercepts and tackles. It took a toll on him. "Last year I let my teammates down, getting hurt and not being there for them," he said. "It hurt me every night I went to bed, it hurt me every night in the summer, every rehab session I had for my hand . . . I couldn't take it anymore, so I knew this year I had to make a statement."
Fully healthy, Price is back and making that statement. "I'm going to sleep well tonight," he said.