Some of the offensive changes in the second half included:
Putting T.J. Yates in the shotgun more often
Often utilizing two tight end sets – both on running and passing plays
Using Ryan Houston in the run game against a tired UConn defense on the final drive
Rolling out T.J. Yates, moving the pocket outside
These changes were necessitated after the offense was totally stymied by UConn. After taking away sack yardage of 24 yards (four sacks) from North Carolina’s run game, the Tar Heels had only 6 yards of net rushing on 17 attempts, and only 65 yards of total offense. After falling behind 10-0 in the third quarter, it was abundantly clear that if the North Carolina offense was going to put any points on the board, it was going to have to change its plans on offense. To the Tar Heels’ credit – they did.
“It was very frustrating (early in the game),” quarterback T.J. Yates said. “Early in the game there wasn’t much going for us, in pretty much in all aspects of the game, we just had to kind of see what they were doing. They played amazing defense. UConn is so tough on defense, we knew coming into the game it was going to be a tough game offensively.”
Butch Davis explained, “We were searching for protections (in the second half). We moved the pocket a little bit, we were getting into a lot of multiple tight end formations that gave us the potential to not only have a running threat, but it also gave us the potential for a little bit of better protection – help on the edges, help on the inside and give T.J. a little bit more operating time in the pocket.”
Passes to Zack Pianalto (seven catches for 87 yards) and runs by Houston (seven carries for 33 yards) helped fuel the Tar Heel comeback, but without buying Yates some time, it wasn’t going to happen. Yates was sacked six times during the game, and avoided another sack or two by getting rid of the ball quickly. His final stat line was 23 completions on 32 attempts, two interceptions, and one touchdown.
Again, it was the adjustments made during the game that made the difference.
“We made a couple of tweaks after half-time and even in the third quarter just to go into some of our naked game,” Yates said. “More (adjustments) than at half-time, just even in the third quarter - making adjustments on the run, throwing formations we hadn’t even practiced all week, and being able to pick things up, draw something up in the dirt, see if that works, and try something else new out and see it that work. And once that was working we just kept at it and kept at it.”
Of course, this was a defensive victory, as acknowledged over and over by Yates in his post-game remarks - and evidenced in the defense scoring the game-winning points. For the second straight week the UNC defense held an opponent to under 200 total yards. But in order for the Tar Heels to win on Saturday they were going to have to put some points on the board.
That wasn’t going to happen without adjustments to the original game plan, which was clearly not working. To their credit, the UNC coaches made the changes they needed to make to leave East Hartford with the win.