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A plea for UNC to run the triple option

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Seriously. It’s our only hope.

NCAA Football: North Carolina at Miami Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

A few weeks ago after the Heels lost the season opener to California, I made a quip about the quarterback situation. In our post-game “Three Things Learned” article, I wrote:

“Folks, there is a legitimate argument that UNC does not have a quarterback capable of playing Division I football this season. I’m not sure it’s even a debate.”

Originally meant as half-joke and half-truth, I was unaware how correct that statement would prove to be. The past three games have made me look like a regular Nostradamus. Whatever optimism many of us had before the season is now gone and has been replaced with apathy, anger, and confusion.

However, mathematically, the Heels can still turn the season around. Sitting at 1-3, if they can scrounge five wins, a bowl is possible and the program can build some momentum heading into next season. Hey, I said mathematically. Not that I believe it will happen.

Honestly, the only way I can see this team finding five wins is to essentially eliminate the Heels’ most talent-poor position on the field. Install a version of the triple-option full-time and strip the quarterback of any throwing responsibility. At this point, not throwing the ball is certainly an improvement, right?

Does it seem crazy? Sure.

Is it impossible? No.

Is it UNC’s only hope? In my opinion, probably.

Consider this stat. UNC’s quarterbacks have thrown six touchdowns this year. Three of those have be caught by Tar Heel receivers. The other three have been caught by opponents. That does not include Nathan Elliott’s fumble against Miami which resulted in a scoop-and-score.

For the year, Nathan Elliott is completing 58% of his passes and gaining just 6.0 yards per attempt. That includes his 313 yard performance against Pittsburgh, when more than 200 of those yards were after the catch. Adding Chazz Surratt’s performance of 4-for-10 and 10 yards in his first appearance last week and Cade Fortin’s 15 yards on 3-for-6 passing against ECU, the picture gets uglier.

The three UNC QBs are a combined 82-for-145 and 798 yards. That comes out to 5.5 yards per attempt. That would be laughable if it wasn’t so tragic.

Seriously. Why even throw another pass?

Just run the ball. Every. Single. Play.

I get it. Watching Larry Fedora stifle the running game has become a true UNC tradition. You certainly haven't forgotten about the back-corner fade into the end zone on third-and-three against ECU from the 15 yard line — after gaining 60 yards on four straight plays on the ground. Throwing on first and third downs, inside the 10, against Miami — after Michael Carter had just carved them up on two long runs — should also be fresh in your memory.

By eliminating passing attempts, the staff will eliminate the temptation from making head-scratching calls. At least fans will expect HB draws and bubble screens on 3rd and long, instead of viewing those as a sign that the team has given up — in the third quarter.

Here’s the reality. The Heels’ three-headed monster in the backfield has been more successful than the passing game. Michael Carter, Antonio Williams, and Jordon Brown have combined for 521 yards on 90 carries. That comes out to an average of 5.78 yards per carry. Through three and half games (thanks to an ejection at ECU) Williams is averaging 6.5 yards per carry. Carter has an astounding 7.9 ypc in his two games.

When Surratt’s totals are added into the equation, those numbers rise to 99 carries for 590 yards and 5.95 yards per carry. Essentially a statistical tie with Elliott’s 6.0 yards per attempt, and better than the combined 5.5 ypa of all three QBs.. Not to mention, the running game has produced six touchdowns — twice as many as the passing game.

According to cfbstats.com, a mere 18 competitions have gained 15 yards or more. Just 8 of those have gone for more than 25 yards. Yet, the running game has produced 29 gains of 10 or more yards. 10 of those 29 have busted loose for 20+ yards.

So, I ask again, is this such a crazy idea?

The defense, while solid, is not going to dominate an opponent into submission. Unless Cade Fortin is the second coming of Mitch Trubisky, the quarterbacks are a hazard to everyone’s health and safety. Most of us literally hold our breath every time Elliott or Surratt drops back in the pocket. The best position group on the team are the running backs. The wide receivers, kicker, and punter are in a three-way tie for second.

It can be the veer, flexbone, wishbone, pistol, or something really cool we’ve never heard of. Run it with pace and a high tempo or eat as much clock as needed. (Hint: A lot of clock-eating is necessary). Hell, throw former four-star recruit and high school quarterback Anthony Ratliff-Williams back there and d let him get in on the action.

It doesn’t have to be the same version that Air Force, Navy, and Army use to confound opponents and it would require a discipline that has eluded Fedora’s teams for a decade. Regardless, it couldn’t be worse than the product on the field right now, could it? When UNC has gone with two or three running backs in the backfield, good things have happened.

So stop throwing the ball.

The season, and possibly coaching jobs, depend on it.