CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – North Carolina’s late season plunge from an Orange Bowl hopeful to a Tier 1 bowl selection was due in large part to an offense that lost its ability to turn average plays into explosive ones, according to Larry Fedora.
UNC (8-4, 5-3 ACC) scored 27 points in its road loss to Duke on Nov. 10 before managing 21 points in its season-ending home defeat against N.C. State on Senior Day.
“As you go back and look at it, I think we underachieved offensively,” Fedora said on Monday. “We didn’t meet our expectations offensively and I think that was a big part of why we weren’t successful in those games. Not to take anything away from the opposing teams – they did a great job in defending us – but we’ve got high expectations for what we do on offense and I didn’t think we performed like we normally do.”
The Tar Heels averaged 0.384 points per play against the Blue Devils and Wolfpack, which is well below their season average of 0.506 points per play.
“I think it’s just a lack of focus and then a lack of execution,” junior quarterback Mitch Trubisky said. “I think some of the games we came out and we expected to win, but we didn’t do the things necessary to win and put us in a better position to win.”
Fedora does not break down his team’s full statistics until the offseason, so he was not yet sure how many points UNC left on the field in its final two games against FBS competition. What was obvious from film study was an inability to make the ordinary plays that often turn into scoring plays.
“To me, I think we underachieved there in the month of November on offense,” Fedora said.
That will have to change now that December is past its halfway and UNC’s matchup with Stanford in the Sun Bowl is less than two weeks away. The Cardinal rank 26th nationally in total defense against winning FBS teams (385.8 ypg) and 42nd nationally in yards per play (5.36)
Head coach David Shaw’s squad ranks 19th nationally in footballoutsiders.com’s S&P+ defensive ratings, which measures explosiveness and efficiency statistics, among others. Stanford has been effective in stopping the run, holding opponents to 4.19 yards per rush. That stat is of particular concern for the Tar Heels.
“For us to be successful, we know we’ve got to be able to run the ball efficiently,” Fedora said. “When we do that, everything tends to be better, so I think we’ve got to refocus on making sure we run the ball effectively.”
UNC ranks 47th nationally in yards per carry (4.88), despite averaging 4.51 yards per carry in the losses to Duke and N.C. State.
How many practices will you have before the bowl game?
“We’ll have 11 or 12.”
You get 15. Is there a reason you won’t use the full amount?
“It just didn’t work out with finals. We just finished finals up on Friday, and so we try and make sure not to practice during finals… I can’t remember a single time that I’ve ever gotten 15 practices in, ever. Academics are important. ”
Are there any draft-eligible players that will not play in the bowl game?
“Not that I know of, no.”
On dialogue with Mitch Trubisky regarding his draft decision:
“Mitch and I have had multiple conversations. He’s got a decision to make and will make it at some point. My role in that is to give him as much information as possible and to support him and his family in their decision. I am sure that he will make a very good, educated decision because he’s got a very thorough process.”
Do you have a timeline for Trubisky’s decision?
“Well, I think Jan. 16 is the declaration [deadline], so whenever he knows what he wants to do and is comfortable with his decision, let me know. There’s no pressure from me as far as when he needs to tell me.”
Is that a fine line for you in knowing when to back off after providing the draft-eligible players with information?
“There’s not a fine line. When I sit down with these guys and get all of this information for them, I make sure they know this is their decision. It’s them and their families; it’s their decision. It’s not me, it’s not anybody’s on the coaching staff, it is them doing what’s best for them because this is their future we’re talking about. I don’t want them to feel pressured one way or the other from me or from anybody else. It’s ‘hey, here’s the information. If you want my advice, ask for it.’ If you don’t, don’t ask, because I’m not going to give it to them. I’m not going to make the decision for them. I’m not going to tell them what I think is best. I’m just going to give them the information and then expect them to make a good educated decision.”
What other guys have you had to get information for, other than Naz Jones?
“M.J. Stewart, Elijah Hood, Donnie Miles.”
Where are they at in their decision-making process?
“Same place he is. Same place. The only one that’s made a decision is Naz. The rest of them haven’t made a decision yet.”
Do you foresee Tommy Hatton staying at guard or will he move back to center?
“I don’t know. He’ll go back and compete at center again in the spring, I’m sure, because with [Lucas] Crowley leaving, that’s a spot that we need to get filled for sure. That’s going to be a really important competition there this spring.”