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Looking Ahead to What UNC's Much Maligned Defense Will Be Facing

Tyler Smith

120 points and 1300 yards. That is what UNC has given up in the past two games to a pair of the more dynamic and productive offenses in the country. Those kind of numbers casts a lot of doubt on how the rest of the season will play out. The slight ray of hope is the remainder of the schedule, at least in terms of the numbers, doesn't pit UNC against any offensive powerhouses. Here is how the rest of the teams on UNC's schedule rank in the relevant offensive categories.

Team YPG Rank YPP Rank YPG Pass Rank YPP Pass Rank YPG Run Rank YPP Run Rank
Virginia Tech 66th 81st 58th 88th(t) 62nd 57th
Notre Dame 57th 45th 36th 28th 77th 75th
Georgia Tech 56th 21st 116th 16th 11th 15th(t)
Virginia 72nd 93rd 64th 88th(t) 69th 79th
Miami 75th 40th 47th 35th 90th 62nd
Pitt 63rd 58th 114th 83rd 16th 26th
Duke 55th 64th 77th 117th 32nd 14th
NC State 21st 20th 40th 48th 26th 15th(t)

From the total yards per game and yards per play perspective, NC State is actually the best offense UNC will face the rest of the season and the only one ranked in the top fifty in both categories. Georgia Tech is 21st in yards per play but playing the Yellow Jackets has always been its own special kind of hell for UNC making whatever stats almost meaningless. The rest of the teams have not racked up big yardage and have plenty of questions offensively speaking.

Since the pass defense has been a focal point, special attention is owed to what these teams do when passing the football.

Team YPG YPA Completion
Virginia Tech 274.4 6.4 61.3%
Notre Dame 285.5 8.5 69.6%
Georgia Tech 152.5 9.2 48.5%
Virginia 240.6 6.4 62.2%
Miami 263.2 8.2 60.9%
Pitt 154.8 6.6 60.7%
Duke 220.4 5.6 57.1%
NC State 274.4 7.9 66.7%

Taking into account both yards per play and completion percentage, Notre Dame and NC State are the two most potent passing offense left on the schedule. Against Georgia Tech and Pitt it will be about stopping the run. The rest of the teams present a more balanced offensive approach with the caveat being the passing game isn't on the same level with a Clemson or ECU.

In UNC's recent defensive debacles there were two types of big plays scored against UNC. There was the "why is that receiver so wide open" kind and the "that was a heckuva a throw by the quarterback" kind. The former is a coverage breakdown like Clemson's first touchdown where multiple Tar Heel defenders were confused as to what they were doing and allowed two Tiger receivers to run free down the field. The latter is an issue of UNC defenders being able to keep up with opposing receivers. ECU's first touchdown against UNC was a case where there was indeed coverage and Dominquie Green had a chance at the ball but mistimed his jump. Shane Carden threw a perfect pass and it resulted in a touchdown. On Clemson's 50-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter UNC defenders were in the right place but the Germone Hopper had a step and Deshaun Watson threw a great pass.

Looking at the raw numbers, the remaining eight games are not nearly as scary in terms of opposing passing prowess as Clemson or ECU. Then again, San Diego State showed a team doesn't necessarily have be a great passing team to be productive against the Tar Heel defense. SDSU is 66th in yards per passing attempt and the 341 yards the Aztecs posted against UNC is a season high. However, SDSU also completed just 59% of its passes against the Tar Heels and threw three interceptions. The best case scenario for UNC may very well be getting beat up a little in yardage but forcing turnovers and hoping for a little inaccuracy from the opposing signal caller.

No one should be under any illusion that the Tar Heel secondary will suddenly turn into the Seattle Seahawks. Teams, regardless of how good or bad their passing games are, will put up some numbers against this defense. The key for UNC will be to minimize the egregious coverage breakdowns. UNC simply can't leave receivers wide open and whatever confusion that keeps causing Tar Heel defenders to blow basic coverage responsibilities needs to be resolved. If UNC defenders get beat and the opposing quarterback hits the passing window so be it. At least in those situations an effort is being made to increase the degree of difficulty on the throw. UNC will also need to get as much pressure in the pocket as possible as another means of disrupting passing plays. However, no amount of pressure is going to matter if opposing receivers don't have anyone within ten yards of them at any given time.

The defense is what it is but given the remaining schedule, UNC can improve the level of play enough as to not get gashed by passing attacks which are not on the same level as the two the Heels just saw.