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Three Things Learned: UNC vs Georgia Tech

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Did we really learn anything?

NCAA Football: Georgia Tech at North Carolina Nell Redmond-USA TODAY Sports

Another week. Another loss. By now, you know the drill. Here are three things that we learned on Saturday.

Possession is 9/10ths of the Law

In Friday’s Three Things to Watch, I pointed out that Georgia Tech had an average time of possession of 34:16, which is the highest of the Paul Johnson Era at Georgia Tech. Somehow, someway, UNC was also averaging their highest time of possession of Larry Fedora’s tenure, clocking in at 28:10. I accurately said that UNC would have to keep it close to a 50-50 split in possession if they wanted to win.

Why was that accurate? Because UNC ended the day with just 23 minutes and 48 seconds of possession. Georgia Tech, obviously, had the ball for the other 36:12.

Possession is only a small part of an offense and it’s not always an accurate measure of success. Noticeably though, this UNC team lacks the explosion of previous Tar Heels teams. They are not a quick strike offense, and have been at their best with long(ish) drives that eat up more than 90 seconds of clock. Keeping a defense on the field for more than 36 minutes on the field (for the second straight week!) is an unquestionable recipe for defeat.

Three for you. Three for me.

As with the time of possession, I also mentioned turnovers in Friday’s Three Things to Watch. (Yes, I’m shamelessly pointing out that this blog nailed a few of the keys to victory). Entering Saturday’s game, Georgia Tech had not won a game in which they lost the turnover battle. Conversely, UNC has not finished with a positive turnover margin this season.

Both of those facts held up. Despite Cole Holcomb’s best efforts, Nathan Elliott’s three interceptions wiped out UNC’s three fumble recoveries and Malik Carney’s scoop-and-score touchdown. With the turnover margin stuck in neutral, the Heels arguably (and literally) gave away another winnable game.

For the season, North Carolina has 11 interceptions....and 9 touchdown passes.

Improved Discipline?

Discipline can take on many different forms. Execution of plays. Maintaining your assignment. Knowing when to throw the ball away. You get the point.

However, an utter lack of discipline has often shown up in the weekly box score under the stat of “Penalties”. In five of the past six years under Fedora, the Heels have finished 100th or worse in total penalties, total penalty yards, penalties per game, and penalty yards per game. I mentioned this before the season started when talking about four keys to success this season.

After the first two games, it seemed the trend was going to continue. Surprisingly, it hasn’t. On Saturday, UNC finished the day with just one penalty for 10 yards. With three games remaining, the Heels’ totals with conference and national rankings are as follows:

Total Penalties: 46 penalties (7th ACC, 27th Overall)
Total Penalty Yards: 372 yards (3rd ACC, 17th Overall)
Penalties per Game: 5.8 (8th ACC, 47th overall)
Penalty Yards per Game: 46.5 (6th ACC, 30th overall)

It’s been a rough season, but the staff and players deserve credit for getting control of what has been a glaring problem for the program.