In 2016, UNC threw the football way too often. The issue has already been covered, but the numbers weren’t pretty. Rushing was down by almost 80 yards compared to the 2015 campaign that saw UNC go 11-3 and this translated to a drop of almost eight points per game. Some games (Pitt and Georgia), UNC all but abandoned the run play. This could’ve been intentional, at least somewhat; the run game was sometimes ineffective and it must’ve been tempting to pass every time with a quarterback like Mitchell Trubisky in the backfield, but Trubisky ended up shouldering entirely too much of the weight. That burden showed later in the year when he had poor games against Duke and NC State. UNC struggled mightily to move the ball these games.
Larry Fedora took criticism for that last year, but some of it could’ve been directed towards Trubisky. It’s true that Fedora didn’t give as many handoffs to Elijah Hood as he would’ve liked, but UNC’s offense is and always will centered around the read option. In those situations, Trubisky was the one choosing to hand it off or pass. If he kept it when he should’ve handed it off, Trubisky was good enough to get away with it more times than not. Whoever wins the quarterback battle will not.
For the first time in Fedora’s career, UNC will likely not have the advantage at the skill positions. After being spoiled by Trubisky, Marquise Williams, and Ryan Switzer for years, that’s a tough pill to swallow. Adjustments are being made across the board, and those adjustments will need to start with the play calling.
If UNC is to have success on offense this year, they must find balance. I’ll repeat that again, if UNC is to have success on offense this year, they must find balance. That was the reason that the 2016 offense often sputtered and why the 2015 offense was so darned good, even though they had virtually the same personnel.
Now, the talent has taken a step back and holes need to be filled. With all those players gone to the NFL, UNC needs to outsmart opponents and catch defenses off guard. This starts will establishing the run, and establishing it early. The quarterback situation is up in the air, but there shouldn’t be too much concern at running back with Jordon Brown and Michael Carter leading the way. Brown is a ferocious, slippery runner and Carter is a freshman who has already impressed in training camp. Coupled with an offensive line that will be better than last year’s (not that impressive), Brown and Carter could spell trouble for opposing defenses. That’s an encouraging sign; UNC will need them to produce, especially if the quarterback situation ends up being problematic, and they’ll need them to produce early. Only then do you start passing downfield, a concept that Larry Fedora has mastered, in both schematics and timing.
The key to finding offensive balance will be the read option. It’s the most overpowered play in college football and UNC needs to get back to it in 2017. If you do it right, the read option basically impossible to stop for the entire game. Whoever ends up being UNC’s quarterback will need to be unafraid of keeping the ball and running with it. That’s how Marquise Williams got his rushing yards, and it’s how UNC moves the ball best. That extra threat of a quarterback run is too much for defenses to handle.
Getting this offense into gear will be Fedora’s biggest task yet. Things are going to be different for this team, but don’t sleep on them. Larry Fedora has a proven philosophy on offense. If he can get his team playing the way he wants them to play, UNC could surprise some folks this season.