Bridging the Offensive Gaps

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – North Carolina only needed two quarters – the first and fourth – to score its most points (43) against N.C. State in 16 years last Saturday. The Tar Heels failed to score in the other two quarters, highlighting both the explosiveness and inconsistency attached to this first-year spread offense.

There's no doubting the effectiveness of UNC's no-huddle spread look. The Tar Heels are averaging 39.4 points (17th nationally) and 487.8 yards (16th) per game, while standing as one of only eight FBS programs to average over 200 rushing yards and 250 passing yards per game.

The challenge, at times, has been finding a consistency from one series to the next. North Carolina has started 120 drives this season and has scored on 56 of those possessions. Of the remaining 64 drives, UNC has turned the ball over 14 times.

Of the remaining 50 possessions, UNC has moved the ball less than 20 yards 33 times – that's 66.6 percent – including 23 three-and-outs.

After scoring 25 points on their first four possessions against N.C. State, the Tar Heels endured seven three-and-outs, two turnovers and a missed field goal in their next 11 series. The Wolfpack reeled off 35 straight points to take a 10-point lead into the fourth quarter. UNC's offense found it's rhythm once again in the final 15 minutes, scoring on two of its three possessions before Gio Bernard's game-winning punt return for touchdown.

"We made some mistakes on first down and got ourselves behind the chains," offensive coordinator Blake Anderson said earlier this week. "We had a couple of penalties that got us behind the chains, so we didn't have the rhythm that we had early.

"We were able to get back to that, but really, the word ‘execution' comes to mind. We dropped a couple of balls; we had a holding call that brought back an explosive play. We had some chances and just didn't execute, to be honest with you. Our rhythm was bad and we weren't able to create tempo like we had been able to do early in the game."

Junior quarterback Bryn Renner offered a similar explanation.

"Once we get a first down, we get into a groove and our offense flows," Renner said. "That's one thing Coach Anderson really wants us to build on. When we don't execute and get positive yards on first and second down, we've got to make up for it on third down and convert third-and-longs. All good teams have to do that and that's where we need to take the next step."

If there is a silver lining in the offensive lapses, it's that Anderson believes his unit is derailing due to self-inflicted wounds.

It's also promising for the Tar Heels that the offense has been effective in flipping the proverbial switch in the fourth quarter of consecutive games. After scoring nine points in the first three quarters against Duke on Oct. 20, UNC regained the lead briefly with a 21-point barrage in the fourth quarter.

North Carolina is outscoring its opponents 164-51 in the second half this season, including a 75-28 edge in the fourth quarter.

"It's definitely something we can build on," Anderson said of the fourth-quarter rallies. "The kids are starting to have confidence in the fact that we can either come from behind or score when we need to. As bad as it looked in the middle, when we weren't executing like we can, the guys kept their heads up and stayed positive. You didn't hear guys griping or moaning about it on the phones or the headsets…

"Some of those same guys that made mistakes early came back and made plays late that allowed us to score and win."

As for the offense's progress through 75 percent of the season, Anderson indicated that he's been happy with how the Tar Heels have adapted to the new system.

"There's obviously things we'd like to do better," Anderson said. "We still hurt ourselves too much. I think it's a sign of immaturity, a new system and growing pains, but to be able to do what we've done late in the game the last couple of weeks to give ourselves chances to win, to be as balanced as we've been and to have as many different people play and have to step up, that's a really good foundation to build on.

"I think we still have some improvements at every position that's going to help us be better in the future, but for the first season, compared to how we've done at other places, I'm really pleased with what the guys have been able to give us."

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