UNC could very easily be 2-4 right now instead of 4-2. If it weren’t for Mitch Trubisky and Bug Howard hooking up in the end-zone and Nick Weiler making the longest field goal of his life, there’d be even more calamity and frustration in Chapel Hill. How much should we be worried about head coach Larry Fedora and UNC football after one of the worst offensive performances in his tenure?
The two emotional, last-second wins against Pitt and Florida State helped hide some worrying issues on both sides of the ball. For all the talent on the offensive end, UNC is still struggling to find a balance between passing and running. There are few running back pairs better than Elijah Hood and T.J. Logan in the entire country and, while both have had their moments, the team has completely dropped off in running the ball. They currently sit at 116th in the nation—THE ENTIRE NATION—in rushing yards with an average of 125.5 yards per game. In 2015, the Tar Heels finished 13th in the country with an average of 224.4 yards per game.
So with only the losses of quarterback Marquise Williams and wideout Quinshad Davis, UNC has lost nearly 100 yards of offense on the ground. Now, you may think that Trubisky and the passing game have more than made up for this, but that’s not true at all. The passing attack sits at just under 300 yards per game this season, while last year the team finished at 262.5. Under Trubisky, passing yardage has increased by about 40 yards. In total, though? The entire UNC offense has lost 60 yards of offense this year.
The fervor and excitement around Trubisky, Ryan Switzer, and those close wins have completely disguised the fact that the Heels can’t run the ball anymore. Yes, the Hood injury has complicated things, but the running back position is the one spot where UNC should be able to weather injuries. Logan and Khris Francis were the only offensive players with a pulse on Saturday. Offensive line issues have affected it, too, but with a talented passing attack and premier running backs, there’s really no excuse. To get back on track, it’s almost too simple: run the damn ball.
Another major reason for UNC’s success last year was turnover margin. Again, with all of the hype around Trubisky taking care of the ball, it’s surprising to see that Heels are minus-three in turnovers. Trubisky may not be throwing many interceptions—at least until Virginia Tech—but the team has already lost six fumbles. Last season, the Tar Heels were plus-seven in the turnover battle, partly due to an aggressive defense that softened giving up tons of yardage by forcing a lot of turnovers.
This might even be the scariest thing: If Trubisky hadn’t been so otherworldly to start the season and throws a few interceptions here or there, both of those Pitt and FSU games are lost. Trubisky’s stellar start before the VT game made it seem like the offense was unstoppable. Really, his herculean effort was keeping the team in games, and it’s hard to believe he can keep those Heisman-like numbers up throughout the year.
The defense, for better or worse, is pretty much what most expected. It’s never going to be a fantastic unit due to a lack of depth, and it actually held up fine against the Hokies—although Hurricane Matthew may have had a lot to do with that. It’s harder to make adjustments on this end, and giving up big plays has still been dooming the Heels. The defense was able to make up for it with interceptions and fumble recoveries in 2015, and maybe a ball-hawking approach is the only way for the defense to make up for its deficiencies.
Most of this, if you can’t already tell, comes down to the coaching staff. Trubisky is not going to go an entire year throwing so few interceptions; it’s a part of the game. He needs his coaches to help him out by creating smarter game plans and calling more intelligent plays (i.e. running the ball a lot more). Trubisky has mostly been able to stand up to the occasion but, with a running game and offensive system like he has, he shouldn’t be asked to do all this. If UNC gets back to its running ways, the season is most likely going to be fine.
These are just a few of the most pressing issues, too. Penalties have been a problem (an average of eight a game for 66 yards a game) even as the team gets help from the opposition, and the wide receivers outside of Switzer have been inconsistent for the most part. It’s strange to look at numbers like the ones Trubisky and Switzer have combined for and think the offense has a lot of room to improve, but that really is true.
Is it time to start looking ahead to basketball season already? Do we need to readjust our expectations as a fan base? Or was it just a fluke of a game that doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things and we should all relax? Sound off in the comments, and let us know if you’re concerned or not!