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UNC Football: History hasn’t been kind to the Tar Heels coming off of a bye

A combination that has left UNC Football fans scratching their head.

NCAA Football: North Carolina at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Happy Tar Heel bye week to all who celebrate! Or maybe we should not be so fast to be excited when Carolina Football has a week off. Why’s that? Well, since Mack Brown’s return to UNC in the Fall of 2019, the Heels have gone into their first bye week with records of...

2019: (3-3)

2020: (6-2) *COVID Schedule (Not considering pause after Week 1 a bye)

2021: (4-3)

2022: (3-0)

2023: (4-0)

The overall record in games after that respective bye week is (0-4), with three of those losses coming to Notre Dame. Next week, when the Heels host the undefeated Syracuse Orange, Mack Brown and company have the potential to make a statement: the Tar Heels are here to stay. Year after year, we have waited for this program to get over the hump and exceed expectations when it feels like they’re right on the doorstep of doing so. Well, here we are again. So that brings us to the question: what is the staff and team failing to put together during the bye week? Sure, Notre Dame is no cakewalk after the bye, I get that. But that does not let anyone off the hook for failing to take advantage of that opportunity year after year.

Forget the wins and losses; let’s look at what has (or hasn’t) changed after that bye week.

Coming into these previous bye weeks, the defense has been the main point of concern. Many of us fans remember being convinced (multiple times) that the off week would allow for defensive tweaks and time for guys to get healthy. Well, we should have known better. In games following the bye week, UNC has allowed 41 points and 258 rushing yards per game. Ouch. Also, offensive efficiency drops — only averaging 15 first-half points and losing the time of possession battle by 31:48 in these four games combined suggests that Carolina historically has come out of the bye week flat and sluggish. They have been tied or trailing at the half in every contest, lost by 10+ in 3 of 4, and, worst of all, have set themselves back in seasons when it looked like the program was moving forward.

The extra game planning and preparation you’d expect to see after spare time off has been non-existent. Seeing the Heels look out of sync and flustered when you’d anticipate just the opposite has been frustrating. The obvious conclusion is that under Mack Brown, the bye week has served UNC no good, and you can argue they seem to actually get worse with the extra time off. To make that highly mentioned jump from good to great, that is an identity Carolina just cannot have.

Once again, there is optimism for what we will see from the Heels on Saturday following 14 days off. At No. 15 in the AP Poll and playing another unbeaten conference foe at home, as a fan, you would hope that the curse will not strike again. With some turnover in staff and a different-look team this year, I am hesitantly hopeful things will change. But to do that and finally take advantage of the bye week, here are a few things I hope we see against Syracuse.

  • Figure out the happy medium with the offensive and defensive game plan. It’s been four weeks, and I hope moving forward, the staff knows when to let Drake sling it, when to pound the run game, when to blitz, and everything in between. We’ve seen flashes of the team developing these identities, but I sometimes wonder if they’re used at the right time. I hope to see Carolina play to their strengths when it’s called for.
  • Continue to develop stars. Alijah Huzzie, Kaimon Rucker, and Omarion Hampton, amongst others, have emerged as impact players and have been game-changing. Those playmakers need to continue to surface to make up for collective struggles (especially defensively).
  • Increase awareness and continue to improve game management. It’s a slight adjustment from years past to see the Tar Heels leading late in games. Taking the air out of the ball hasn’t exactly been in the vocabulary for Mack Brown and company. I would hope to see UNC learn how to knock teams out of games early but continue to stay with the game plan to avoid any chance at the unexpected. Run clock, but do not go away from what got you there.

There is always room for improvement, but the Tar Heels are (4-0), and the optimism is high. Can you complain? I am super excited to see the product on Saturday against Syracuse. This team is tough and has the pieces to take that next step, and I hope Mack Brown and the staff can rewrite the past narrative by doing that following the bye. Just keep winning! Go Heels.