The Confidential

The ACC Sports Blog

The Tar Heel Football Gauntlet- One Week In

Last week, we looked at North Carolina Football’s difficult four-game stretch and examined some of the statistics and intangibles they held that may or may not be good indicators of future success. While there were some bold predictions and unlikely scenarios presented, it all seemed semi-plausible until East Carolina completely dismantled the Tar Heels on the way to a 70-41 victory last Saturday. In a record-setting performance, the dynamic Pirates offense, led by quarterback Shane Carden, totaled 789 yards of offense. With an 0-1 record  one week into the gauntlet, and a 2-1 record overall, it’s important to take last week’s performance into account when looking at North Carolina’s next three games. For the sake of some hope of predictability, we’ll just look at the most immediate game, Saturday AT Clemson, for now.

North Carolina Tar Heels (2 Games In)

(2-0 vs. (Win) Liberty (2-1), (Win) San Diego State (1-1))

Passing Yards             Rushing Yards            Points For                    Points Against

59th, 249.0 avg.          67th, 169.5 avg.          21st, 43.5 avg.             86th, 28.0 avg.

North Carolina Tar Heels (3 Games In)

(2-1 vs. (Win) Liberty (2-1), (Win) San Diego State (1-1), (Loss) East Carolina (3-1))

Passing Yards             Rushing Yards            Points For                    Points Against

47th, 264.0 avg.          70th, 161.3 avg.          21st, 42.7 avg.             121st, 42.0 avg.

Looking at the statistics before and after the East Carolina game, a number of things stand out. First of all, the positives. North Carolina actually moved up in the Passing Yards rankings, bringing their average up 15 yards to 264 yards per game. That took them 12 spots closer to the best offense in the FBS. At the same time, the team’s Points For ranking didn’t change, indicating that while the actual average is down slightly (just 0.8), the team didn’t regress significantly in its overall offensive prowess.

But here’s the bad news- this team has no defense. It’s one thing to score over 40 points a game. It’s another to HAVE to score over 40 points a game, and then, sometimes still lose. Despite having an extremely talented, but crowded, backfield, the Tar Heels are now averaging 8.2 yards fewer on the ground. That’s not the worst of it though. The most telling statistic of all is Points Against, where North Carolina shot 35 spots back, with an opponent points increase of 14. That’s two whole touchdowns a game! Sure, a performance like the one by East Carolina on Saturday will skew statistics like these slightly, but the statistics only point to the problem. If the Tar Heels want to have a chance in any of their remaining gauntlet games (Clemson, VT, Notre Dame), much less the rest of the season, they have to find themselves on defense. Despite having a winning record, bowl eligibility is becoming to be a concern.

So what about their next opponent, the Clemson Tigers? Don’t they have a losing record now? Doesn’t that mean North Carolina has a better chance? Not at all. The Tigers still have home field advantage on their side, and it means more than anything now that the team lost a heartbreaker in a close one against #1 Florida State on Saturday. The team is also unranked, which means that there’s extra motivation to play hard and earn their respect back. For argument’s sake though, let’s look and see how the team’s statistics changed too.

Clemson Tigers (2 Games In)

(1-1 vs. (Loss) #12 Georgia (1-1), (Win) South Carolina State (1-2))

Passing Yards             Rushing Yards            Points For                    Points Against

16th, 335.0 avg.          57th, 178.0 avg.          11th, 47.0 avg.             71st, 26.0 avg.

Clemson Tigers (3 Games In)

(1-2 vs. (Loss) #12 Georgia (1-1), (Win) South Carolina State (1-2), (Loss) Florida State (3-0)

Passing Yards             Rushing Yards            Points For                    Points Against

18th, 325.3 avg.          82nd, 152.3 avg.         42nd, 37.0 avg.           68th, 25.0 avg.

Clemson actually experienced a significant change in most categories. Keeping in mind that they played the number one team in the country though, it’s not surprising. Like North Carolina, they still struggle on the ground, and don’t carry any momentum into the game. But unlike the Tar Heels, the Tigers’ Points against is still (relatively) strong, with 17 fewer points against per game. That’s significant.

So the outcome of Saturday’s game really hinges on which team can regroup better this week. I still think it will be Clemson for a number of reasons. The Tigers appear to be more talented, and are coming off of a close loss, not a potentially debilitating one. They also have home field advantage, and now that they’ve played Georgia and Florida State, their schedule only gets easier from here. Unfortunately for Tar Heel fans, the defense has struggled against every team they’ve played, and the offense may have trouble maintaining their 42 points a game against a team that only allows 25. Time will tell if fans should truly jump off the bandwagon, but until then, they should be very, very cautious.

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