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Analyzing UNC's Offense: 3rd Down

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday we looked at UNC's offense on first and second down and discovered there are plenty of efficiency issues on the first two plays of the four down cycle. Since the Tar Heels are facing third down more often than they did a year ago, how do they fare?

Here is a breakdown of North Carolina on third down facing different yardage situations via CFB Stats.

Situation Plays Yards Average Comp % 1st downs TDs 1st/TD Conv
3rd down 1-3 yards rushing 10 24 2.40 N/A 5 0 50.0%
3rd down 1-3 yards passing 9 70 7.78 77% 6 1 77.8%
3rd down 1-3 yards total 19 94 4.95 - 11 1 63.2%
3rd down 4-6 yards rushing 6 13 2.17 N/A 3 0 50.0%
3rd down 4-6 yards passing 14 61 4.36 42% 4 0 28.6%
3rd down 4-6 yards total 20 74 3.70 - 7 0 35.0%
3rd down 7-9 yards rushing 4 11 2.75 N/A 1 0 25.0%
3rd down 7-9 yards passing 16 249 15.56 75% 7 3 62.5%
3rd down 7-9 yards total 20 260 13.00 - 8 3 55.0%
3rd down 10+ yards rushing 4 -18 -4.50 N/A 0 0 0.0%
3rd down 10+ yards passing 16 181 11.31 64% 6 0 37.5%
3rd down 10+ yards total 20 163 8.15 - 6 0 30.0%
3rd down total rushing 24 30 1.25 N/A 9 0 37.5%
3rd down total passing 55 561 10.20 62% 23 4 49.1%
3rd down total 79 591 7.48 - 32 4 45.6%

As we discussed yesterday, UNC has had issues putting together consistency on first and second down. That leaves the offensive unit facing third down more often than they did a year ago. As it turns out, the play on third down isn't really that bad and the current team actually converts at a 4% higher rate than the 2012 team did. Put simply, imagine what kind of mess this team would be in if the third down conversions was the same or worse than 2012. Okay, don't think about that, no one should ever have to think about such things.

A peek into the situational breakdowns offers some intriguing numbers and also some weirdness. UNC is really good at converting on third down at 1-3 yards and 7-9 yards but not 4-6 yards and anything 10+. The 10+ is expected given third and long means a pass is coming. Defense tends to cover that fairly well and when you opt for a revers on third and goal from the ten it doesn't really end well. And UNC's -18 yards in that situation can be faulted on two plays: Bryn Renner's sack versus South Carolina and Sean Tapley being dropped for a nine yard loss against Virginia Tech on the aforementioned reverse. A pair of other running plays has balanced that out to a nice, fat -4.5 yards per rushing attempt on 3rd downs of ten or more.

The real mystery is why UNC is so good on 3rd and 7-9 yards and not so good on 3rd and 4-6 yards. Conventional wisdom says those two would be flipped given the distances involved. For whatever reason the 20 plays UNC has run facing 3rd down and 7-9 yards have resulted in eight first downs and three touchdowns. When it is four to six yards, UNC has run 20 plays resulting in just four first downs. Also of note is on the 14 pass attempts, the completion percentage is a paltry 42%. In all other situations the completion rate is above sixty and even seventy percent. It is possible UNC's lack of a solid running game and the offensive line issues make it easier to cover plays at this down and distance. UNC has not benefited nearly as much from screen and swing passes this season as they did when Gio Bernard was the receiver. The 4.3 yards per attempt on pass plays at this distance could seem to indicate screen or swing passes near the line of scrimmage aren't garnering much in the way of yards after the catch.

As was the case on first and second down, UNC is much better of passing the ball in these situations than running it for all the reasons we have discussed ad nauseum. I doubt that leads to any change in the game planning and again perhaps the addition of T.J. Logan will help matters. The offense still needs to do more on first and second down with the third down conversion being a nice safety net from time to time.

It should be noted that each of these situations offers up a small sample size which can be easily swayed by the performance in one game. The overall picture on third down points to some fairly solid execution at key moments. The problem is the entire offense across the first downs needs to step up. The 1-4 record, while not totally on the offense, indicates that while there are some things to like in the stats, the only stat that matters is still pointing the wrong direction.