Interpreting Defensive Performance

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – While North Carolina's defensive statistics may leave you scratching your head, Larry Fedora and his coaching staff have seen improvement behind those numbers.

Georgia Tech rolled up 428 total yards of offense in its 28-20 victory over UNC on Saturday. The Yellow Jackets averaged 5.2 yards per play, converted 9-of-16 third downs and dominated time of possession by a 2:1 ratio.

UNC has given up 400 yards or more in each of its first three games this season. You have to go all of the way back to the John Bunting era to find the last time that happened – the Tar Heels' first five opponents in 2003 all surpassed 400 yards and combined to allow an average of 520.6 yards per game.

The emergence of the up-tempo spread systems skews the total yardage numbers due to the increased number of plays, but the yards per play statistic doesn't provide much, if any, positive adjustment.

UNC is allowing 5.49 yards per play, good for 68th nationally. The last time UNC allowed more than 5.25 yards per play for a season was in Bunting's final year in '06 (5.7).

Despite the mediocrity of those statistics against solid competition, UNC's coaching staff has highlighted the need to correct missed assignments and failed execution while praising the defense's performance overall. In the season-opening loss at South Carolina, Fedora told reporters his defense played well outside of giving up four big plays.

On Monday, the second-year UNC head coach offered similar comments after reviewing the Georgia Tech game tape.

"I was pleased with they way they played really for about 54 minutes, actually," Fedora said. "You say, ‘Yeah, you need to get off the field on third down,' but when they get into their flow and get into third and short, it's going to be tough to do. Then if they don't [get it], they go for it on fourth down and short."

Fedora said his defense's effort was "phenomenal" at times prior to Georgia Tech's victory-clinching final drive.

Middle linebacker Jeff Schoettmer, who co-led UNC with 10 tackles, told reporters the coaching staff was "pleased" with the defense's play during film review.

"We gave great effort – that was the No. 1 thing," Schoettmer said. "Everyone was running to the ball. A few obvious things were too many missed tackles. I think we had 21 missed tackles, which is way too many… We had a good game plan for it and we executed well."

Fedora talked at length about the missed tackles during his weekly press conference.

"There were probably about five of them that would have shut down third down and got us off the field," Fedora said. "Unfortunately, we didn't make those tackles. The tough thing about it was that those were the tackles that were missed without a blocker on them. We had some guys with some incredible effort with some blockers on them making tackles. Then we had some situations where we were in the open field unblocked right where we're supposed to be - the way it's drawn up - and we don't make a play."

Several of those missed tackles occurred late in the game after the defense had been on the field for long stretches of time. Georgia Tech held the ball for over 22 minutes in the second half.

"I think we were a little fatigued, but it wasn't a factor in why we lost the game," Schoettmer said.

UNC's defense has a pair of opportunities coming up to level out the statistics and prove its coaches' confidence – East Carolina ranks 95th nationally in yards per play (5.14) while Virginia Tech is even worse at 106th (4.68).

 

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