PINEHURST, N.C. – For a team designed around an up-tempo approach, its starts to games and seasons in recent years have forced North Carolina to play from behind in more ways than one.
The Tar Heels started 1-5 in 2013 before rallying for a 7-6 finish. Last fall, UNC dropped four of its first six games before winning four of its next five to gain bowl eligibility.
With a favorable schedule in 2015, the Tar Heels are looking toward the season opener against South Carolina on Sept. 3 as an opportunity to reverse that trend.”
“We’ve been playing from behind the last couple of years and it sucks,” UNC quarterback Marquise Williams said. “If we start fast and finish fast, we’ll be playing in the college playoffs.”
Before even contemplating that lofty goal, the Tar Heels must first address their tendency last to stumble out of the kickoff on a seemingly game-by-game basis.
UNC trailed by 14 points or more in five games before scoring in 2014, and fell behind 9-0 in a sixth.
When told of that stat at the ACC Football Kickoff on Tuesday, UNC head coach Larry Fedora replied: “That’s not good.”
“I’ve been on teams that score early and fast; I’ve been on teams that don’t,” the fourth-year UNC head coach continued. “As a staff, we sit down and we talk about those situations and everybody tries to figure out what it is…
“It’s not like we change our routine and do all of these different things from year-to-year because we don’t. It’s just the makeup of your team. It’s trying to get that chemistry right. We talk about it as a team. ‘Hey, we’ve got to start fast. We’ve got to get out there and get going right off the bat.’”
UNC ranked 36th nationally in points per game (33.2), yet averaged 6.0 points per game in the first quarter (72nd). The Tar Heels ranked 13th nationally in second-half scoring (18.7).
“Believe me, I want to go out there on the first series of the game and go down and score a touchdown,” Fedora said. “I don’t like kicking field goals, so I want to go score touchdowns, and we didn’t in most of those instances.”
Furthering the head-scratching component is the level of coaching involvement in the early play calls.
“To be honest with you, most of those plays are scripted out,” Fedora said. “Those plays are practiced more than any other plays – the first 12 plays of our game. So we should be better at those than any other thing that’s going on, but we weren’t for whatever reason. Maybe that’s overcoaching. Maybe we shouldn’t do anything all week and just go out there and see what happens.”
UNC trailed 20-0 in a loss at Clemson, 23-0 in the Quick Lanes Bowl loss to Rutgers and 35-0 in a home loss to N.C. State. UNC’s defense outscored its offensive counterpart 13-0 in the first halves of games against San Diego State and Miami.
The Tar Heels were able to overcome 14-0 deficits to Virginia and Pittsburgh to churn out victories.
“We were inconsistent,” Williams said. “We’d start slow and then we’d jump on and be ready to go. We’re going to start fast from the beginning to the end. We’re going to keep moving the ball and using more of our tempo. We’ve been using tempo, but not the way we should have been doing it.”
Fedora highlighted youth on the offensive line as a primary reason in UNC's offensive consistency in 2014. Returning all five starters up front, along with Williams and four other skill position players, should help provide more traction early in games this fall.
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