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Tar Heels defense improves, but offense still a mess

UNC Notebook

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UNC Notebook

North Carolina football fans must feel as though they’ve passed into Bizarro World — the comic-book realm in which everything is opposite to its counterpart on earth.

Through most of head coach Larry Fedora’s tenure, Carolina has featured high-powered, exciting offenses and less reliable defensive units, but the 2017 offense has sputtered, ranking 89th nationally in scoring offense and an anemic 91st in yards per play (5.35). Things have been even worse as injuries have mounted over the past three weeks, with UNC averaging only 11.3 points and 4.6 yards per play against Duke, Georgia Tech, and Notre Dame.

The Tar Heel defense, on the other hand, had a rough start in the first two games but has settled down and played well in recent weeks, including a respectable 5.53 yards per play given up in Saturday’s rainy loss against a quality Notre Dame team, then ranked No. 21 (now No.16) but without starting quarterback Brandon Wimbush.

Injuries obviously factor heavily into the reasons the Carolina offense is struggling — the Heels finished Saturday’s game down a staggering five wide receivers after Devin Perry’s season-ending collarbone injury. Even the punter is not safe from the injury bug in Chapel Hill, as All-America candidate Tom Sheldon exited the game with an undisclosed injury. Youth is another factor, with the skill positions almost entirely manned by underclassmen.

FEDORA TAKING BIGGER ROLE

Given the offense’s increased struggles, it should therefore be no surprise that at Monday’s press conference Fedora declared that he was assuming a larger role in running the offense.

Fedora explained that he still does not plan to call the specific plays on a down-by-down basis but rather “will be much more involved when we are in between series and those kinds of things.”

“I’m not saying that I’m taking over the offense,” Fedora clarified. “I’m just going to be more involved in what we’re doing.”

Fedora has a reputation for being an innovative offensive coach, and UNC will need every bit of creativity he and the Carolina offensive staff can muster to overcome the situation in which they have found themselves halfway through the 2017 season.

DECISIONS COSTLY

Fedora’s decision to throw the football out of his own end zone with 38 seconds remaining in the first half and Notre Dame only having two timeouts helped lead to a deflating safety after a hard-fought first half in which the defense had held the explosive Irish offense to only 14 points.

Granted, the safety was the direct result of poor execution by the UNC offensive line that would have doomed nearly any run play, as Fedora himself pointed out, “Probably, looking back on the play, the only thing we would have been able to do was just get under center and go quarterback sneak.”

That is, of course, precisely what should have been done even on the first play from the end zone to close a half in which Carolina had kept things closer than expected.

After a similar head-scratching decision to go for a touchdown instead of a chip-shot field goal on fourth down and 12 when needing two scores late in the season-opening loss to Cal, it’s fair to say that regardless of whether the offense is able to find more success, Carolina’s clock and game management decisions also stand in need of improvement.

RECRUITING NEWS

Four-star Arizona quarterback Tyler Shough flipped his commitment from UNC to Oregon over the weekend, costing the Heels one of the crown jewels of a strong-so-far 2018 recruiting class.

Carolina still has a commitment from highly-regarded dual-threat Kansas quarterback Jace Ruder, who was on the UNC campus for the loss against Notre Dame.

BASKETBALL LANDS TOP 10 RECRUIT

In more positive news, five-star wing Nassir Little (Orlando, Florida) gave UNC basketball its first commitment from a top-10 recruit in over four years when then No. 9 Justin Jackson declared for the Tar Heels in 2014.

Little is a 6-foot-7, 205-pound wing ranked as the No. 9 overall player and No. 4 small forward in the nation. An explosive player in the mold of recent Carolina star Harrison Barnes, Little projects as an instant contributor and potential one-and-done NBA player.

With Little combining with previous commitments Coby White of Greenfield School and Rechon “Leaky” Black of Concord High, Carolina now has the top-ranked 2018 recruiting class in the industry-standard 247Composite rankings.

Carolina will unveil its 2017–18 basketball team to the fans at the 15th annual “Late Night With Roy” on Friday.

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