UNC-UVa: Between The Lines

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. --- For all intents and purposes, the Tar Heel offense formed a circular firing squad in Kenan Stadium against Virginia on Saturday.

Through three games now against BCS opponents in 2009, the Tar Heels have now rushed the ball 56 times for 52 yards. If you're looking for a culprit for the lack of offensive production, there it is.

Against Virginia on Saturday, Shaun Draughn had 14 carries for 34 yards, a 1.8 yard-per-carry average, and the Tar Heels totaled 39 net rushing yards on 23 carries. That's coming off a net rushing average of 0.9 yards per carry a week ago, when the Tar Heels rushed for 17 yards on 18 carries.

Who's to blame?

Maybe it was the offensive line.

"One of the things we're not doing really well is getting people off the ball," offensive guard Alan Pelc said. When asked what he thought he'd see on film tomorrow, Pelc said, "I really don't know. There were a lot of missed opportunities, missed plays, missed blocks here and there."

Clearly the offensive line is hurting, pain that was punctuated when an exhausted Kyle Jolly limped off the field today. Perhaps the impact of losses along the offensive line - Lowell Dyer, Jonathan Coooper, Carl Gaskins, etc. - have been underestimated.

Maybe UNC should have used running back Ryan Houston more.

"It's something that I think we may have to talk about," head coach Butch Davis said of increasing Houston's role. "If you go back to the exact same game a year ago…I want to say we ran it in excess of 140 yards…It just didn't click for (Draughn) today. We didn't have the ball long enough, when you're going three-and-out, nobody gets any rhythm. We took the whole first half to find out if there were any runs that would work at all."

It's a headscratcher, made more so by continuing a game plan that was going nowhere fast. Houston, the lone bright spot in the run game, finished with 16 yards on three carries, a 5.3 yards-per-carry average. Perhaps more than three carries by Houston would have helped the anemic UNC run game.

Maybe it was the play calling.

On one particular third down and short in the third quarter, Houston came into the game, as is typical when the offense has a short yardage situation. Instead of handing off the ball to Houston, offensive coordinator John Shoop called for play action. If that play had worked, perhaps we wouldn't be discussing it at all, but perhaps what the Tar Heels needed to do at that point in the game was to sustain a drive, and a handoff to Houston would have been a much higher percentage play.

Maybe it was the inability of the offense to throw the ball.

"It's hard to pass the ball when your run game is not going so well," quarterback T.J. Yates said. "And it's hard to run the ball when the passing game is not going so well."

It didn't seem that Virginia's 3-4 defense was keying on the run or the pass, and the Cavs stifled both overall, allowing UNC only 174 yards of total offense.

Maybe it was just the players' fault.

"The problem is the lack of execution," running back Shaun Draughn said. "That's all it boils down to. You can't point the finger at just one person or one position group."

There's plenty of blame to go around: execution, effort, play-calling, you name it. There are other foibles to discuss, like three turnovers, special teams play that wasn't special, but at the end of the day…

"We've got to play better on offense," Davis said. "We've got to find a running game."

That sums it up nicely.

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