A Lesson in Field Position

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – While the key statistics of No. 17 North Carolina's loss to Maryland fell heavily in the Terrapins' favor, the Tar Heels' ability to win the field position battle kept them in contention until the bitter end. Butch Davis shared his thoughts with reporters during his weekly Sunday teleconference.

The numbers were not appealing – Maryland dominated North Carolina in first downs (27 to 11), third-down conversion percentage (50 percent to 9 percent), rushing yards (195 to 75) and time of possession (40:29 to 19:31), as well as winning the turnover battle (2 to 1). So if you're trying to figure out how the Tar Heels led 15-14 until the final minutes, you have to look at the hidden yardage figures represented in the field position statistics.

Maryland started inside its own 25-yard line on eight of its 12 possessions, and its best field position occurred on their game-ending drive that resulted in Chris Turner taking a knee in the victory formation at his 39-yard line. The Terrapins average starting field position was their 25-yard line.

By comparison, North Carolina started inside its 25-yard line on just three of its 12 possessions, while beginning two drives inside Maryland territory. The Tar Heels' average starting field position was their 35-yard line, indicating that during the course of the game, UNC manufactured a 10-yard head start on its opponents.

"[The 10-yard difference] was very important," Davis said. "We actually won the effective field position, even though we had a poor day punting the football. I think we ended up having an effective field position of close to 60 yards. We had some decent kickoff returns, we forced a fumble and we took the ball over at the 33-yard line."

That forced Maryland to chew up 73 yards or more on each of its three scoring drives, using 41 plays to post 17 points. North Carolina's offense scored on two drives under 40 yards, but unfortunately, the Tar Heels managed just six points on its three red-zone scoring opportunities.

"The missed opportunities weren't just missed opportunities from a play standpoint, whether it was an interception or whether it was a pass," Davis said. "The missed opportunities were the field position and not being able to capitalize and score touchdowns. If we could have ever taken somewhat of a surmountable lead that changed the dynamics of the game, and made it more of a throwing game and less of a running game, it could have changed the outcome."

Johnny White played a significant role in several of UNC's possessions, helping to fill Brandon Tate's void at kick returner by tallying 80 yards on three kickoff returns for a 26.7 yards per return average.

Things didn't go quite as well for Terrence Brown, who was coming off an impressive performance against Georgia Tech, averaging 45.7 yards on six kicks with three downed inside the 20-yard line. With miserable weather conditions affecting snaps and catches on Saturday, the senior punter (30.0 yards per kick average on 5 punts) pinned the Terrapins inside the 20-yard line just once in five tries. Maryland's average starting position following Brown's punts was the 24-yard line.

But while we can analyze the statistics until we're blue in the face, the result on Saturday came down to one painfully obvious factor.

"We didn't play well enough in all three phases to give ourselves an opportunity to win the game," Davis said.

News and Notes:

* While a portion of the Tar Heel fan base may be clamoring for T.J. Yates to return to his role as the starting quarterback, Davis told reporters that Cam Sexton will continue to be the starting quarterback for North Carolina.

"Our plan is right now to start Cam," Davis said. "Certainly T.J. is improving every week, [and] he's getting back into the routine. If you remember, he missed a significant amount of practice time where he wasn't able to practice…

"The quarterback is not any different than any of the other players on the team. The person that gives us the best chance to win the game is the guy that obviously we're going to play. Certainly yesterday, Cam did not play as well as he had played in the previous ball games, but he had a lot of help with that. The protection at times wasn't good, guys dropped balls and people just didn't play as well."

* Davis indicated that walk-on punt returner Trase Jones suffered a mild concussion on Saturday.


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