Inside Carolina/Jim Hawkins

Tar Heels Clicking on Third Down

UNC ranks 20th nationally in third-down conversion percentage.

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – For the second year in a row, No. 18 North Carolina is leading the ACC in third-down conversion percentage. That statistic is particularly relevant this week as Georgia Tech ranks last in the conference in third-down conversion defense.

UNC is converting at 47.7 percent on third down, which includes the woeful 2-of-14 performance against Virginia Tech in hurricane conditions. The Tar Heels are hitting at 46 percent in ACC play.

“Our quarterback understands what we want to do in every situation,” UNC head coach Larry Fedora said after Wednesday’s practice. “Our offensive line is doing a good job in protection. Those guys are making plays. We’re shooting for 50 percent, so we’re still not where we want to be. We feel like if we’re at 50 percent, we’ll be one of the best teams in the country. That will keep us on the field quite a bit, so we’ve got a chance to do that.”

The numbers back that up. Only nine teams nationally are converting 50 percent or more of their third-down opportunities, led by Texas Tech (57.8).

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“When you talk nationally, we’ve always said if you hit 48 percent or above, you’re going to be top-15,” offensive coordinator/OL coach Chris Kapilovic said. “If you get to 50, you’re going to be top-10 or top-5. That’s really where we’d like to go.”

Fedora’s been tracking third down statistics since 1994, and his averages are remarkably consistently over that duration. Each game, his offense is going to encounter seven or eight 3rd-and-longs (8+ yards), five or six 3rd-and-mediums (3-7 yards) and two or three 3rd-and-shorts (1-2 yards). UNC gameplans for those averages. For example, the call sheet for 3rd-and-medium may only contain six plays, which allows the team to practice that set number of plays instead of adding extra calls to the mix that only clutter the gameplan.

Fedora expects to convert at 85 percent on 3rd-and-short, over 50 percent in 3rd-and-medium and at 28 percent in 3rd-and-long scenarios.

Kapilovic indicated UNC has been better on 3rd-and-long than some might expect, and that’s primarily due to quarterback Mitch Trubisky’s effectiveness in clutch down and distances. Trubisky is 25-of-45 on 3rd-and-long with 18 first downs, which represents a 40 percent conversion rate.

As good as the Tar Heels have been, there’s still plenty of room for improved efficiency.

“As a coach, yeah, 48’s a good number, but [heck], we could have been a lot better,” Kapilovic said. “We’ve had some gimmes that we didn’t take care of, so that’s the frustrating part.”

UNC will likely have an opportunity to inch closer to that 50 percent threshold against a Yellow Jacket defense that is allowing ACC opponents to convert at a 49.2 percent clip on third down.


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