RB Production Lacking

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – North Carolina’s running back meeting room is stocked with talent, yet for the second year in a row, it’s quarterback Marquise Williams that is leading the team in rushing.

Williams has been the featured offensive back in UNC’s ground game the past two weeks, averaging 113 rushing yards on 18.5 carries per game. The running backs have totaled just 67 yards on 33 carries over that span.

The problem is that Williams’ efforts in the ground game have been out of necessity to achieve offensive balance.

Consider this quote from head coach Larry Fedora on Sept. 10: “We definitely don't want our quarterback to be our leading rusher in the games.”

UNC’s ground game, which is headlined by five-star freshman Elijah Hood (199 yards) and four-star sophomore T.J. Logan (138 yards), ranks 10th in the ACC (89th nationally) with 146.2 yards per game.

“I feel like we should be doing way more than what we’re doing,” Logan said on Tuesday. “But there’s another half to the season, so we’ve got time to pick it up like we did last year. We can’t let this get us down. We’ve got to keep working hard.”

There are a variety of issues in play. First and foremost, UNC’s offensive line is short on experience and long on youth, which was heightened with injuries to three starters dating back to training camp. Saturday’s loss at Notre Dame marked the first time all season that UNC’s projected starting five actually started together.

The offensive line isn’t solely to blame, however. Poor blocking by the wide receivers and poor reads by the running backs have piled up as well.

“It’s guys just being wrong,” Logan said. “The running backs being wrong, the receivers being wrong, the O-line being wrong. Just one guy every play that’s wrong. And as an offense, that can’t happen.”

Logan also acknowledged a level of frustration with the revolving door approach in the backfield. Hood is the lone tail back to notch double-digit carries in a game, and he’s only hit that mark twice.

“We’ve talked about it a little bit,” Logan said. “We feel like sometimes that gets us out of rhythm, but when we’re out there, we know we can’t let that affect us and we’re going to try to play the best we can.”

While running backs coach Larry Porter said that “each game has a life of its own” and the game plan has to change accordingly, he stressed the need for more production from his position group.

“You have to make every carry count,” Porter said. “You have to run like it’s your last run. That’s the attitude that we’ve got to have.”

Williams is undoubtedly an asset to the ground game. Increasing his designed runs also increases the number of hits he has to absorb, and according to Porter, UNC has to keep him healthy. That only happens by improving the other aspects of the rushing attack.

“I truly believe that going forward there will be more production from the standpoint of efficiency and putting the offense in position to stay ahead of the chains and for us to put points on the board,” Porter said.

If history is any indication, UNC can make strides over the second half of the season. The Tar Heels averaged 189 rushing yards per game over their final seven contests in 2013 with the running backs accounting for roughly 75 percent of those totals.

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