Searching for the Ignition Switch

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – North Carolina not only endured another slow start in South Florida, but failed to muster much offense at all in its 47-20 loss to Miami. The Tar Heels’ bye week focus includes finding a rhythm off the opening kick for their stretch run.

UNC’s offense has been shut out twice and held to a field goal a third time in the first half this season. The Tar Heels (4-5, 2-3 ACC) scored as many non-offensive touchdowns as offensive touchdowns (2) before halftime in their first four games against FBS opponents before scoring three times in the first half of their next three games.

That trend reversed again on Saturday as UNC was limited to 57 total yards of offense and six points courtesy of Cayson Collins’ fumble return for touchdown.

UNC has been outscored by 83 points in the first half of its eight contests against FBS opposition. The Tar Heels have led at halftime in just one of those games – a 21-17 lead over Georgia Tech on Oct. 18.

As a result, the bye week emphasis has been finding a way to start fast, according to right guard Landon Turner.

“We still don’t feel like we’ve done that this season,” Turner said following Tuesday’s practice. “I don’t know what it is. We’ve been working really hard as a team to emphasize being prepared and ready to start the game right and not get behind and continue staying behind.”

The lack of offensive efficiency early in the season was blamed on the quasi-quarterback rotation by fans and media alike, although the coaching staff dismissed that notion. Once backup quarterback Mitch Trubisky’s entrance on the third series ended, UNC delivered its two best offensive performances against Notre Dame and Georgia Tech.

Three explosive scoring plays against Virginia, however, overshadowed an inconsistent offensive showing to close October before the offense faltered entirely at Sun Life Stadium.

“It’s always frustrating,” wide receivers coach Gunter Brewer said. “Our offense is based on a rhythm-type thing and the first drive we got going, got in a rhythm and then we got [a sack]. We shot ourselves in the foot and it just kind of got worse from there.”

The offensive woes begin with an ineffective ground game beyond quarterback Marquise Williams’ ability to create under duress. UNC’s running back corps is averaging 64.5 yards per game against FBS competition.

Williams was sacked six times by Miami – and 20 times on the season – although Turner wasn’t ready to put the blame for Saturday’s performance on the offensive line.

“I didn’t view that game as a setback necessarily,” Turner said. “Really, we gave up about one sack as an offensive line, which is one too many. I think we’ve improved a lot.”

Regardless of where the blame belongs, UNC can ill-afford to misfire offensively out of the locker room in its closing three games if it hopes to become bowl eligible.

Up next is a physical Pittsburgh team that ranks fifth in the ACC in total defense (334.8) despite giving up over 1,000 yards in its last two games against Georgia Tech and Duke.

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