There is a strange feeling out there among Carolina fans. Does this feel like a 3-0 start to the season?
Second half collapses, a porous defense, and key injuries are factors that are not exactly instilling optimism among the fan base.
Yet unlike the past two seasons, the North Carolina Tar Heels have found ways to finish close games and find themselves with a realistic shot to start the year 4-0 for the first time since 1997.
When looking at the statistics for this weekend’s game versus Notre Dame, one category sticks out as this week’s X-Factor: third-down conversions.
On offense, Carolina ranks seventh in the nation in third-down conversion percentage (.564).
At the opposite end of the spectrum is Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish are 124th in the FBS in third-down conversion percentage (.263). ND is eighth to last in the nation.
Here is where things get interesting: the two teams are tied for third-down conversion percentage defense. Both UNC and ND are tied for 69th in the nation with a third-down conversion percentage defense of .366.
So far in 2022, the Tar Heels are great at converting on third down, while the Fighting Irish are terrible. Both teams are average on third down defense.
If these trends remain status quo this weekend, the advantage lies with Carolina. The third-down conversion X-Factor will become even more important in the second half.
In the Appalachian State game, the period between the App missed field goal and UNC’s second field goal of the second half was the best stretch of football for Carolina this season.
In the four straight touchdown drives during that stretch, the UNC offense converted six third downs to sustain those eventual scoring drives.
More impressively, two of those six third-down conversions were for 11 and 13 yards.
The next two scoring drives after those touchdowns were field goals. The offense could not keep those drives going, and everyone knows what happened next.
UNC must find a way to keep drives alive, especially in the second half. It may not be a matter of holding onto the ball to keep the clock ticking, but getting seven points at the end of the drive.
Time of possession is not a good indicator in the Air Raid offense, but both Carolina and Notre Dame are similar in their time of possession rankings.
The concept is simple: if you hold the ball longer, your chances of scoring increase while the other team’s decreases. But it is something else to make it happen.
If both sides of the ball do their part on third down, the Tar Heels will have a great chance at an important program victory.