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Tar Heel Hangover: Big plays

Explosive plays are becoming the key to the Carolina offense.

NCAA Football: Georgia St. at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the Tar Heel Hangover. This is our opportunity to review last week’s game, second-guess all of the key moments, and set the game plan for the week ahead.

The Elevator Speech: What happened last week.

In many ways, this was the warm-up that Carolina likely needed before traveling to Blacksburg. A chance to work out some of the kinks, the Heels put up 59 points against the over-matched Panthers and controlled the entire game. Hopefully, this production will be a confidence builder moving forward.

There are still concerns on both sides of the ball, however. Georgia State was able to get fairly consistent pressure on the Carolina backfield and the Heels’ defense gave up almost 200 yards rushing. Line play on both sides of the ball will continue to be an area of focus for development.

Water Cooler Discussion: Big plays on offense.

Fans knew that the departures of Michael Carter and Javonte Williams would have an impact on the Carolina offense. The most immediate effect has been the lack of a consistent running game. A lesser recognized result has been the inability of Carolina to sustain long drives.

Without the ability to comfortably consume four or five yards per play on the ground, the Heels are becoming increasingly reliant on big plays to score. The sole touchdown against Virginia Tech was a tunnel screen from Sam Howell to Josh Downs who broke for 37 yards. The first half touchdowns against Georgia State followed a similar pattern: 22 yard Sam Howell run, 57 yard pass to Antoine Green, 30 yard pass to Emery Simmons.

For the entire game, Carolina only had one scoring drive of 10 plays or more against the Panthers. This is largely due to the lack of a consistent running game, which is needed for grinding drives. Contrast this with Georgia State, who had a 17 play, 75 yard drive for a touchdown in the second quarter. Constantly and exclusively relying on the big play to score is simply not a recipe for continued success in major college football.

Relatedly, the lack of sustained drives is killing the time of possession. Despite a huge Carolina victory, it was Georgia State that won the time of possession battle. Virginia Tech dominated in time of possession. The Heels had only two scoring drives that consumed more than four minutes of game time, with the longest logging in at 4:39. Georgia State had a drive that lasted 7:30. This imbalance will wear down the defense over time and make for frustrating fourth quarters.

A Quick Look Ahead

Carolina gets another prime time game as the Virginia Cavaliers come to town for a 7:30 kick-off. Brennan Armstrong is a pass-first quarterback who has enough mobility to be dangerous on the move. The Cavaliers have also only given up one sack on the year, although this will be their first game against major competition.

Winning this game will require better play at the line of scrimmage on both sides for the Heels. I am looking for more blitzes and schemes on the defensive side to put pressure on Armstrong. The Carolina secondary is very good and it is time to let them play. On offense, some semblance of a running game must appear and it can not all be on Sam Howell’s shoulders. If traditional runs do not generate yards, then I would expect more hybrid running plays like quick swing passes.

Final Thought

The Georgia State win showed promise but generated plenty of questions. As a nine point favorite against a conference foe, Saturday could be a step toward giving fans answers. Big plays are exciting, but it is the long drives that show dominance.

Go Heels!