UNC head coach Larry Fedora was asked during his weekly press conference on Monday if he thought his offense would be further along at this point of the season. His response was blunt and succinct.
“I really did,” he said. “That’s disappointing. We’ve still got a lot of work to do.”
UNC managed just 62 yards in the second half of Saturday’s 28-20 loss at Georgia Tech. In four second-half possessions, the Tar Heels were 0-for-3 on third downs and turned the ball over once.
In 2012, UNC averaged 40.6 points and 485.6 yards per game to go along with a 6.49-yards-per-play mark, good for 14th nationally. Now that Gio Bernard and three of his offensive linemen are in the NFL, the statistical difference between 2012 and 2013 thus far is glaring.
UNC is averaging 23.3 points and 374.3 yards per game on a 5.37-yards-per-play clip, good for 84th nationally.
“We’re not playing as well offensively,” Fedora said when asked about the decline in production. “We’re just not playing as well. It’s as simple as that. It would be easy if it was just one thing. If it was one thing, we’d get that one thing corrected but there’s a lot of things involved and we’re still just not gelling as an offense yet.”
Fedora’s offense has hummed along at all of his career stops dating back to his first offensive coordinator gig at Middle Tennessee State in 1999. That resume provides a solid foundation for belief that UNC will return to its high-powered ways in short order, but it also begs the question as to why the offense has struggled to find a rhythm in the 1-2 start.
Southern Miss averaged 5.7 yards per play in Fedora’s first season in 2008, marking the lowest yards-per-play average during his head coaching tenure. The Golden Eagles failed to score 28 points or more in four of their first six games that season.
“It’s always tough to score points,” quarterback Bryn Renner said. “I think at times last year we made it look easy just because of the caliber of players that we had. Every team is different. No one went in with the expectation that we were going to score 40 [points] a game.”
Renner makes a solid point. As explosive as UNC was in 2012, it’s not as though the Tar Heels were shabby in the two years prior with those same offensive linemen working upfront.
With James Hurst, Jonathan Cooper and Travis Bond starting and Brennan Williams playing behind a senior Mike Ingersoll at right tackle, UNC averaged 5.86 yards per play in 2010. One year later – Renner’s first as starting quarterback – UNC averaged 6.29 yards per play, good for 22nd nationally.
Renner’s completion percentage and yards per game numbers are down this season, but Fedora dismissed the notion that his senior quarterback was to blame for UNC’s second-half struggles on Saturday.
“Our entire offense was struggling in the second half,” Fedora said. “I don’t necessarily feel like it was just Bryn. I don’t think anybody made anything happen on offense, I really don’t in the second half. Whatever we could do to shoot ourselves in the foot to hurt ourselves we did. That’s kind of been our Achilles’ heel this year.”
In addition to the interception, penalties – including a holding call that erased an 82-yard touchdown pass to Ryan Switzer – put the offense behind the chains on two of UNC’s four second-half possessions.
Fedora highlighted a lack of continuity with the new offensive line additions up front – three underclassmen are starting alongside veterans Russell Bodine and Hurst – in explaining why the offense has been unable to find a rhythm.
“We’re not getting into a flow,” Fedora said. “You’ve got to keep moving the chains to get into a flow offensively and for everyone involved. From a penalty here to a missed block here to a misread here it’s always one guy. That’s the thing on offense - you’ve got to have all eleven doing it at the same time.”
While there’s plenty of blame to go around – drops in the passing game and incorrect reads in the ground game – Renner took responsibility for his share on Monday.
“If we’re not winning ball games, then I’m not doing my job,” Renner said.
Due to its front-loaded schedule, UNC’s offense will receive no reprieve in the coming weeks. East Carolina held its two FBS opponents to 296.5 yards per game, while Virginia Tech (233.3 ypg, 5th) and Miami (282.0 ypg, 14th) both rank in the top-15 nationally in total defense.