Disrupting Periods of Futility

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – North Carolina built a 14-0 lead over No. 5 Notre Dame with equal parts offense and defense. Less than 14 minutes later, the Fighting Irish had taken its first lead at 21-14. Such scoring trends during this four-game losing streak have forced UNC to play from behind.

UNC’s defense delivered the fast start that has eluded this program during the first half of the season, forcing two turnovers and a 3-and-out on Notre Dame’s opening three possessions. The offense capitalized on short field on its first possession for a touchdown before Jeff Schoettmer’s pick-6 increased UNC’s lead to 14-0 with 8:48 to play in the first quarter.

Over the next 13 minutes and 52 seconds, Notre Dame outscored UNC 21-0 and outgained the Tar Heels, 223-10. The Fighting Irish maintained their lead for the next 21 minutes and 45 seconds.

UNC’s thin margin of error against top-25 caliber teams has been eroded with similar stretches of ineffectiveness dating back to the loss at East Carolina.

In Greenville, UNC led 20-14 early in the second quarter. During a 12-minute, 55-second span, however, the Pirates outscored UNC 28-0 and outgained the Tar Heels, 241-53. ECU delivered a pair of scoring drives topping 75 yards, forced two 3-and-outs and completed the momentum swing with a pick-6.

A week later in Clemson, the Tigers jumped out to a 20-0 lead and outgained UNC, 209-29. The Tar Heels punted on their first five possessions – which included three 3-and-outs – while breakdowns plagued the secondary.

Virginia Tech failed to secure a 20-point scoring run, but did manage to increase its lead from 7-3 to 24-3 over a 19-minute stretch in the first half of its 34-17 win over UNC on Oct. 4.

“Being on a team, you have to understand that when one side is down, the other one has to pick them up,” UNC head coach Larry Fedora said following the ECU loss. “That’s just the way it is. That’s the only way that you have a chance to be successful… Whatever mistakes are made, the other side has to make up for it or you don’t win.”

Fedora told reporters on Monday that there’s no magic formula to eliminating the runs.

“You just do your job,” the third-year UNC head coach said. “That’s all you have to do. You do your job and you play harder than the guy across from you.”

Fedora has talked before this season about how one side of the ball should not be affected by how the other side is playing, although he acknowledges it still happens.

“Our offense, that’s their job to score,” defensive tackle Ethan Farmer said, “and we’re here to help get them out. As an offense and defense, we’re working together as a group.”

Part of the maturation process involved with a young team is plugging holes and preventing poor play from extending over a length of possessions or quarters.

“There are momentum swings in every game,” Fedora said. “That’s what you talk about when you talk about handling adversity. You’ve got some adversity going on and somebody steps up and makes a play and stops it and turns the tide. If you didn’t stop the tide, it would just keep going.

“You can’t get caught up in the flow. You can’t get caught up in what’s happening. You’ve got to just keep playing.”

While UNC was unable to bounce back in its previous three losses, it stemmed Notre Dame’s momentum on two different occasions on Saturday.

Marquise Williams directed a 16-play, 75-yard touchdown drive on UNC’s ensuing drive after the Fighting Irish’s 21-0 spurt. Late in the third quarter, the offense and defense worked in tandem to score 10 points and force a turnover during a three-minute stretch to retake the lead at 36-35.

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