Wonders never cease, at least that's the feeling looking at the defensive stats as compared to last season. Here is what UNC looks like this season.
|UNC||National Rank||ACC Rank|
|Points per game allowed||17.3||17th||6th|
|Total offense per game allowed||349.3||34th||9th|
|Total offense yards per play allowed||4.85||32nd||6th|
|Passing yards per game allowed||135.5||3rd||2nd|
|Passing yards per attempt allowed||5.5||9th(tied)||2nd(tied)|
|Rushing yards per game allowed||213.83||113th||14th|
|Rushing yards per attempt allowed||4.52||82nd||11th|
|Opp. 3rd down conversion||41.30%||91st||14th|
|Opp. 4th down conversion||50.00%||61st||3rd|
|Opp. red zone conversion||76.47%||23rd||9th(tied)|
|Opp. red zone conversion(TDs)||64.67%||86th||13th|
|First downs per game allowed||20.0||62nd||12th|
|Opp. total plays run||432||44th||12th|
|Opp. plays of 10+ yards||65||12th(tied)||6th|
|Opp. plays of 20+ yards||17||4th(tied)||1st(tied)|
|Opp. plays of 30+ yards||6||4th(tied)||1st(tied)|
|Opp. plays of 40+ yards||4||20th(tied)||3rd(tied)|
|Opp. plays of 50+ yards||2||22nd(tied)||1st(tied)|
|Opp. plays of 60+ yards||1||22nd(tied)||2nd(tied)|
|Opp. plays of 70+ yards||1||48th(tied)||5th(tied)|
Let's be clear about one thing. The defense, while much improved over last season, still suffers statistically in vital areas. The run defense is still ranked in the bottom third of FBS though it still better than last season. Teams are still getting far too many third down conversions stifling UNC's ability to get the defense off the field. Given the offense scores so quickly, the defense being on the field for prolonged periods can wear them down.
The two standout numbers for the defense are the passing yards allowed which is just 135 yards per game and 5.5 yards per attempt which are both top ten nationally. Granted the caveat there is teams would much rather run the ball against UNC given the state of the rushing defense however the pass defense has still been good. UNC is ranked 17th in scoring defense allowing just 17.3 ppg. With the tougher part of the schedule looming it will be interesting to see how well that number holds. At any rate, given UNC's offensive explosiveness, keeping teams at around 20 ppg is a huge advantage.
Now what everyone whats to see, the comparison to last season(and other years)
|Points per game allowed||17.3||39.0||24.5||25.7|
|Total offense per game allowed||349.3||497.8||403.1||389.6|
|Total offense yards per play allowed||4.85||6.53||5.28||4.96|
|Passing yards per game allowed||135.5||257.4||220.7||246.9|
|Passing yards per attempt allowed||5.5||8.5||6.8||7|
|Rushing yards per game allowed||213.83||240.46||182.38||142.67|
|Rushing yards per attempt allowed||4.52||5.22||4.16||3.61|
|Opp. 3rd down conversion||41.30%||48.97%||39.81%||36.70%|
|Opp. 4th down conversion||50.00%||83.30%||33.33%||45.45%|
|Opp. red zone conversion||76.47%||88.89%||84.44%||85.71%|
|Opp. red zone conversion(TDs)||64.67%||72.22%||55.56%||54.76%|
Improvement across the board in every relevant category and in some cases UNC is presently posting the Larry Fedora tenure best on the defensive end. The 4.85 yards per play allowed is down almost two yards per play over last season and tops 2012's 4.96 yards per play. The pass and scoring defense numbers are by far the best a UNC team has seen since Fedora's arrival.
One obvious difference over last season is the conversion numbers. While 41% is still not great on 3rd down, UNC was giving up nearly 50% on third down last season. Likewise teams that entered the red zone against UNC in 2014 were scoring at an 89% clip, that number is down to 76% as is touchdowns in the red zone at 64.6% down from 72.2%.
The other huge improvement is UNC limiting big plays. Here is how UNC looked against long scrimmage plays last season versus now.
|10+ yards||20 + yards||30 + yards||40 + yards||50+ yards||60+ yards||70+ yards||80+ yards||90+ yards|
There is marked improvement across the board. Last season UNC allowed 219 plays of 10+ yards which was 121st nationally. That came out to 16.8 plays per game that were at least first down distance. This season through six games UNC has given up just 65 of those which is 12th overall. UNC is allowing six fewer plays per game of 10+ yards.
Going down the line the numbers are much improved over last season especially in 20+ and 30+ yard plays. As for big plays UNC routinely gave up plays of 50 or more yards multiple times. Those numbers have been cut dramatically which speaks to how well the pass defense has played but also to generally better tackling.
The only caution with UNC's defensive numbers comes from the schedule. UNC has not faced great teams. Georgia Tech is the best offense UNC has seen so far with the Yellow Jackets ranked 34th in yards per play and 58th in yards per game. The good news is only one of the teams left on UNC's schedule is ranked higher than 70th in yards per play. Miami is 29th in yards per play while the rest of the schedule is Virginia(91st), Pitt(78th), Duke(87th), Virginia Tech(82nd) and NC State(70th).
Still, the schedule is about to get tougher with teams that will undoubtedly challenge UNC's defense more than what the Tar Heels have seen thus far.