The turnover margin aspect of the formula is self-explanatory – force more turnovers than you cough up. The explosive play variable is defined as any pass over 18 yards and any run over 12 yards.
In its season opener against James Madison, North Carolina capitalized with 10 explosive plays, highlighted by a pair of Dwight Jones touchdown receptions (34, 21) and a pair of Gio Bernard touchdown runs (12, 14). The Dukes managed just three explosive plays.
Against Rutgers, UNC posted seven explosive plays, including Jones’s 66-yard scoring strike and Bernard’s 60-yard touchdown scamper, while the Scarlet Knights equaled James Madison’s output.
The Bryn-Renner-to-Jones connection accounts for six of North Carolina’s 17 explosive plays this season.
But while UNC has dominated the explosive play side of the double positive equation, it has lost the turnover battle in both games.
“When you turn the ball over, that’s always going to be a concern for you,” head coach Everett Withers told reporters during his weekly press conference on Monday. “But I think that’s more a mindset than it is a fundamental or technique issue.”
The Tar Heels have thrown four interceptions and lost two fumbles in two games, while also putting the ball on the ground four other times.
Renner has been fantastic in his first two collegiate starts – 42-of-49 passing, 550 yards, 3 TD – outside of his four picks. Withers referred to his quarterback’s errant throws as “football life learning issues.”
Renner described those mistakes as a combination of bad reads and bad throws.
“Any time you throw a pick, there’s going to be a lot of things that factor into it,” Renner said. “Most of it falls on me. Just reading things better and getting more acclimated with the offense.”
The red-shirt sophomore refuses to lean on his inexperience as an excuse for his handful of glaring mistakes.
“I’m not going to make that excuse because I feel like everything I’ve done for the last three years has been preparing for this season coming up, so I’m not going to use that as a crutch,” Renner said. “I think the more experience I get out there, the better I’ll be, hopefully. Every throw I make I just can’t throw it to the other team.”
Five different Tar Heels account for the six fumbles, with strips after catches by Jones and Erik Highsmith representing the lone turnovers of the bunch.
Withers also made it clear that the defense is not immune to criticism for its inability to create turnovers. The coaching staff tracks M.O.B.P.s – missed opportunities for big plays – and UNC’s defense earned three on Saturday, with a fourth occurring in the kicking game.
“You need to have those,” Withers said. “Our kids know that term – they know M.O.B.P. like they can wake up to it in the mornings.”
Safety Matt Merletti (see right) and linebacker Tommy Heffernan were responsible for two of the three interception drops that could have helped UNC break open the game against Rutgers.
“We really just have to capitalize on any opportunities that present themselves,” Merletti said. “… We have to catch those interceptions and we have to recover those fumbles.”
Withers shared his philosophy on creating turnovers with the media.
“Here’s what I think about turnovers – and I’ve been a defensive coordinator for a long time at a lot of different spots – when they happen, they happen and they usually start coming,” Withers said. “And if you start pressing, you start making other mistakes. Play fundamental football, make the plays that come to you, try to see why you did not make the plays earlier and they’ll happen.”
North Carolina currently ranks T-115th nationally in turnover margin (minus-3.0). History is clear in stating that trend must reverse if UNC wants to challenge for the ACC title and a spot in the Orange Bowl.
Of the 30 power conference champions to represent their league in BCS bowl games over the past five years, only two finished the season with a negative turnover margin – Ohio State in ’07 (minus-0.23, 76th nationally) and Cincinnati in ’08 (minus-0.57, 92nd).
Georgia Tech’s plus-0.69 turnover margin in ’09 marks the lowest for an ACC champion during that same time frame.
The Tar Heels have already provided evidence that their smothering defense and quick-strike offense is capable of consistently winning the explosive play battles. All that’s left in securing the double positive victory on a weekly basis is correcting the turnover issues on both sides of the ball.