One of the biggest narratives surrounding the 2016 UNC football team is the run defense and all the concerns surrounding it. It’s fairly hard to argue against the notion that it’s an issue.
The last two games UNC played were not a good look for the run defense. North Carolina gave up 319 total rushing yards to Clemson, and then allowed an all-time bowl record of 645 to Baylor. Those two game made up 954 of the 3463 yards they allowed all season. In Carolina’s only other loss of the season, they allowed 254 to South Carolina. It was a major factor in all three losses.
Add in the fact that UNC loses both Shakeel Rashad and Jeff Schoettmer, and the run defense is definitely something to be worried about.
In six of their wins last season, Carolina allowed over 200 yards. However, the offense was enough to cover it up. While that may be the case again in some games this season, there are some teams on North Carolina’s schedule that may be able to exploit the run defense. Maybe not to a Baylor level, but there are teams that can definitely go for 250-300.
The two teams that are most equipped to take advantage of the run defense are Georgia and Florida State. Georgia will get back Nick Chubb. Even if Chubb is not 100% following his injury, Georgia will probably have someone who can run the ball, because they always seems to have at least one good running back.
Meanwhile, Florida State has Dalvin Cook. Last season, Cook averaged 7.4 yards per carry, and arguably should have been a Heisman Trophy finalist. However, in all likelihood, UNC will be an underdog in those two games anyway. UNC’s run defense can play average in both of those games and still possibly lose. There are some other games where UNC might be a favorite where the run defense might be a big factor.
Last season, UNC held Pitt to just 153 rushing yards. However, 2014 ACC Player of the Year James Conner is returning for the Panthers this season. It will be difficult for Carolina to repeat that performance again this year.
Georgia Tech’s option also could be a problem for North Carolina. Even in a down year for the Yellow Jackets, UNC still allowed a lot of yardage on the ground in last year’s game.
Then there is the NC State game. In last year’s game, Carolina gave up 308 yards on the ground, and that was a State team without both Matt Dayes and Shadrach Thornton. While at least part of that total was due to the fact that the game was pretty much over in the first quarter, not all of it can be discounted. Dayes will return this season for State, making that game a potential worry.
Take this for what it’s worth, but North Carolina faces eight running backs that received All-ACC preseason votes. There are a lot of good players on the schedule that a UNC defense that allowed the 3rd most rushing yards in the country has to face.
North Carolina’s offense has the potential to cover up many problems that arise due to the defense. Last year, UNC allowed 279 rushing yards to Delaware and still won by 27 points. The offense can be really good. However, there are definitely some teams on the schedule that can really make North Carolina pay.