The negative for the Tar Heels exiting the visitor’s locker room at halftime on Saturday was that they trailed the Louisville Cardinals by 29 points. The positive – as much of a stretch as it may be – was that they wouldn’t have to alter their tempo in attempting a comeback.
That approach, in addition to a pair of special teams plays, is how North Carolina found itself on Louisville’s 23-yard line with 4:15 to play, trailing by only five points.
UNC ran 30 plays for 243 yards in the second half, averaging a play every 20.7 seconds and 8.1 yards per play.
That tempo, of course, is slower than what Fedora and offensive coordinator Blake Anderson would prefer, which negates the need for a traditional two-minute drill in practice.
“It’s the same thing,” quarterback Bryn Renner said on Monday. “It’s the two-minute drill every series we have.”
The Tar Heels practice their two-minute drill every Tuesday and Wednesday, but while increased speed is the primary emphasis for most other programs in the country, UNC’s focus is geared more to situational aspects, such as converting third and fourth-down scenarios.
“We should be able to do two-minute better than anybody in the country because that’s basically what are offense is,” offensive guard Jonathan Cooper said. “We have gotten accustomed to it, now we just have to become accustomed to the pressure surrounding the two-minute drill.”
Eleven of North Carolina’s 19 scoring drives this season have taken 1:55 or less off the clock. Four have occurred in less than a minute, while only two have carved out more than 3:30.
“We’re kind of in a two-minute mode all of the time if you think about it, so really when we get in to that area, it’s not a big deal to us,” Fedora said. “Our kids don’t look at it any different, because it’s just what we do and so there’s a comfort level.
"That’s a good thing, because you can watch some teams who get in to a two-minute situation and it’s almost like panic, but with our guys you don’t notice anything different. It’s just the same as it is all the time. I don’t think there’s a panic level. I think everybody understands what we’re trying to do.”
When the offense is clicking, as it did in the second half against Louisville, the potential for an avalanche of points is alluring. There are glaring problems, however, when an offense built to score, not manage the clock, fails to do either.
In the first half on Saturday, North Carolina’s first five drives yielded an interception, a lost fumble and three punts and soaked up just 8:48 off the clock. The Cardinals led 29-0 by that point.
A similar problem worked against the Tar Heels when they had a late lead against Wake Forest on Sept. 8. Holding a 27-21 lead with 10:44 remaining, Renner threw three consecutive incomplete passes from his own 20-yard line before UNC had to punt the ball away. That drive burned just 66 seconds.
On UNC’s next possession – this one starting with 8:32 to play – A.J. Blue ran twice for a first down before a run for no gain and two pass plays failed to yield a first down. That drive took just 1:56 off the clock.
Wake Forest started its game-winning drive with 6:36 to play and soaked up 4:27, leaving UNC with 2:09 to make its comeback.
“We’re not going to eat six and a half minutes off the clock,” Fedora said in the days following the Wake Forest loss. “I don’t anticipate us doing that so I wouldn’t have thought let’s run the ball every play here and see if we can get off the field and win the game this way. I wouldn’t have thought that way.”
It’s not that the North Carolina coaching staff is adverse to running the clock; it’s just a strategy that’s as strange to them as the two-minute drill is for a typical huddle offense.
“We’re not blind to the fact that we need to milk clock and we will when the opportunity presents itself,” Anderson said. “If you get way away from what your personality is, you’re not going to operate very well.”
As with all offenses, there are pluses and minuses to the no-huddle spread concept that Fedora has installed in Chapel Hill. Through three weeks of the 2012 season, North Carolina ranks 19th nationally in scoring offense (41.0) and 113th in time of possession (24:51).
Fedora’s made it clear that there is one thing that he wants to change and change quickly – his offense needs to increase its tempo dramatically. Brakes need not apply, for better or worse.
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