To Punt or Not to Punt

CHARLOTTE - You only need to know who your punter is if you plan on punting.

The bad news is that UNC coach Larry Fedora isn’t sure who his punter will be for the season opener against UGA. The good news? Carolina might not have to punt. 

When answering a question at ACC Media Days on Thursday, Fedora said he was unclear on who his punter would be "if we have to punt.”

If you have to punt? 

Bro, for real?

Certainly that quote could be taken out of context, so here is the full quote:

“That’s a good question. We haven’t named the starting punter yet. The other ten guys… they are going to do their job. But right now we haven’t had a guy separate himself as a punter. We know we are going to have somebody out there 43 days from now on September 3rd. We are going to have someone out there to punt if we have to punt. Wether we put up those numbers (on offense) again or not we are going to have to have a punter during the season.”

To be fair, Fedora is not necessarily wrong to assume that his high-flying offense might not punt. After all, the Heels didn’t punt during a 41-14 win over Delaware last fall. Look, if Georgia can't force UNC to punt on September 3rd the Kirby Smart experiment might need to end at exactly one game. 

I’m trying not to go too hard here at a guy who isn’t a fan of punting. I get it. No one really wants to punt. Scoring every time you hit the field is so much better than punting. Going for it, in fact, is much more dramatic than punting. Fedora’s teams know how to put points on the scoreboard, and you don’t get that way by perfecting punts.

But this isn't a video game. Sensible people punt. Its a standard strategy in football. 

There is little doubt that Carolina can score with the best of them. The Heels put up 30 points or more in all but three of their games last season. RB Elijah Hood is a straight-up stud (1,463 yards and 17 TDs). The Heels return four of five offensive line starters. And they seem quite comfortable with incoming QB Mitch Trubisky and what sounds like his considerable arm talent. 

Fedora is still working on getting his team to force more punts, and that seems to be the real barometer of how far Carolina has come and how far it has to go. Forcing punts is quite advantages for UNC considering the fact that wonder kin Ryan Switzer is a punt-return genius.

But Carolina’s run defense is still a work in progress, and that’s putting it nicely. Gene Chizik, the guy Cam Newton made famous during an otherwise quite forgettable head coaching career, is still scheming that side of the ball. Carolina’s head coach expects and wants the Heels to be better against the run. 

“You have to be more efficient against the run,” Fedora said. 

645 rushing yards… 49 points… 

Last we saw them, the Carolina defense was the wood being sliced by a dysfunctional Baylor buzzsaw that was powered by it’s backup QB. "More efficient" might not be good enough.

“Yes, we expect that run defense to be better,” he added. 

Nearly anything would be better than that dumpster fire. And while there is virtually no way the Dawgs can put up 645 rushing yards in a game, that performance can’t breed confidence for UNC considering what’s next: Nick Chubb (and perhaps Sony Michel) in Silver Britches, and UGA’s dependable run game. 

“I promise you they are going to have a great running back back there - Nick Chubb or Sony Michel,” Fedora said. “They have a stable of them.”

When asked about stopping Chubb, Michel and the UGA run machine, Fedora said: “We have to be in out gaps, get off blocks and make tackles.”

That is easier said than done against Chubb-powered UGA teams. The Dawgs have put up at least 200 yards rushing in all but three games Chubb has completed. UGA might have flaws in the passing game, but Fedora is convinced the Bulldogs will get that figured out as well. 

“They don’t know who their quarterback is, but I can tell you that he’s going to be good.”

Stand by Larry, everyone’s not as certain on that one yet. 

Still, this game is a test of sorts for everyone involved. Can Kirby Smart be what most UGA fans are convinced he will be? Was 2015 a flash in the pan for a Carolina program that is now finally out of the shadows of NCAA scandal? 

“Our football team and staff are excited about playing UGA. Everyone knows the tradition of their team. All they do is win ten games a year. They are in the top ten in recruiting every year. There is a sense of excitement. You get to play UGA. We know we will walk into that stadium, it will be loud and most of it will be red. Playing a game of that magnitude… the guys don’t look at it as ‘what will this do for our program.’ But you dream about playing games like this,” he said. 

Just not punting in them.

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