Greg: Destructing the Defense

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – While it's tempting to look at North Carolina's defensive effort against Georgia Tech on Saturday in a one-game or one-season vacuum, a better approach may be to scan Larry Fedora's entire head coaching career.

The stats were brutal. The Yellow Jackets entered the Coastal Division matchup with a losing record (4-5) and managed to score 68 points, the most-ever allowed at Kenan Stadium. It was the second-highest total by an opponent in school history (Louisville scored 69 in ‘05).

Georgia Tech's 588 total yards of offense tied for the ninth-most yards allowed in school history (Maryland, ‘02).

Arguably the most intriguing statistic emerging from Saturday's debacle was an offensive one – North Carolina's 50 points were its most-ever scored in a loss. The previous high was 47 points against Syracuse in triple overtime in 2003.

Why is that particular statistic so interesting? History.

Fedora owns the same record with the same number of points at his previous stop, Southern Miss. The Golden Eagles lost at Tulsa, 56-50, in 2010. In regulation.

Southern Miss's defensive coordinator at the time was Todd Bradford, not Dan Disch, USM's defensive coordinator in 2011 and UNC's current coordinator, nor Vic Koenning, UNC's associate head coach for defense.

Fedora, currently in his fifth season as a head coach, has lost 23 games over that span. The average number of points allowed in those losses is 37.5. Ten opponents have scored 40 points or more against a Fedora-led team, while four opponents have eclipsed the 50-point mark.

In Fedora's first four seasons as a head coach, his defenses allowed an average of 25.0 points per game. North Carolina, including Saturday's record-setting performance, is currently allowing 25.7 points per game.

The obvious explanation is found by looking on the other side of the ball. Fedora's no-huddle offense is designed to increase tempo, which also increases the number of possessions in any given game.

Georgia Tech entered Saturday's contest averaging 12.6 possessions per game and started 15 drives against UNC.

Another telling stat is Georgia Tech's 22:32-7:28 time of possession in the second half on Saturday. The Tar Heels currently rank 112th nationally in time of possession (27:02) and are on pace to become Fedora's third team in five years to rank in the bottom-third nationally in time of possession.

That's proven to be collateral damage of sorts with this warp-speed offensive approach. It's only an issue when an opponent has the lead and wants to take the air out of the ball – see the Yellow Jackets' six-minute, 15-second drive in the fourth quarter to ice the victory.

Increased tempo and time of possession statistics only move the needle in small increments, though.

There's plenty of blame to go around for both players and coaches following Saturday's performance. But is it possible that the root of the problem is more cultural than it is schematic or personnel?

When Butch Davis arrived in Chapel Hill prior to the 2007 season, it was clear that defense ruled the day. The offense was secondary to an extent, present to control the clock and limit turnovers. It was a conservative approach that drove the masses mad – offensive coordinator John Shoop absorbed a tremendous amount of body blows from fans and media alike.

When Fedora arrived, however, the emphasis flipped to offensive aggression. 'Don't leave your seat or you might miss a Tar Heel touchdown.' The 4-2-5 defense was installed to aid the offense by forcing turnovers with an attacking style of play.

Want to know the primary reason Fedora was able to increase Southern Miss's win total from eight to 12 from 2010 to 2011? It was 21 non-offensive touchdowns. With two games to go in 2012, the Tar Heels have four such touchdowns.

Shoop, despite his underappreciated successes, often earned scapegoat status in a program built on defense. If history is any indicator, Fedora's defenses could end up with a similar fate.

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