It turns out, though, that Georgia Southern game fell at the perfect moment. UNC needed to repair an offense that had fallen off the tracks, and a FCS program provided the ideal fit for a tune-up.
While there was much talk from coaches and players throughout the week of “simplification,” it was a more-balanced tailback usage and the utilization of a quick pass game that proved to be the two biggest changes to the offensive game plan.
Shaun Draughn started the game at tailback, but for the first time this season Ryan Houston received more carries.
“I just feel like I can help the team win,” Houston said. “I feel like that we have a good offense … I just feel like put me in there and I feel like we can make yards. Short-yardage, that’s my thing but I feel like other than that I can make some plays.”
Against Virginia, Houston’s 5.3-yard average was one of the very few bright spots for UNC’s offense (Draughn averaged 1.8 yards a carry). Following the game, Davis had expressed a desire to use Houston more in the future.
The Tar Heels did just that against Georgia Southern. Houston ended the game with 15 carries, while Draughn had 14. In the first half – when the game was actually decided – Houston’s held a 12-8 advantage in carries.
“[Using Houston and Draughn equally] is what we’ve kind of anticipated in every game,” Davis said. “But sometimes the game itself – the score or whatever – takes you out of all the things that you say you’re going to do before the game starts.
“We didn’t have any preconceived [ratio of carries], we’re just going to play them, keep them fresh, and keep them in there. And I think it balanced out pretty good.”
A fresh Draughn averaged 5.8 yards a carry (his highest average since the season opener) and scored on a 16-yard run. Meanwhile, Houston rushed for a season-best 56 yards and three touchdowns.
Meanwhile, the passing offense appeared to place a premium on getting the ball out of Yates’ hand as soon as possible. Yates averaged 5.9 yards-per-attempt, but completed 70-percent of his passes.
Yates attempted just three deep passes and none were completed. Additionally, ten of Yates’ passes were intended for a running back or tight end.
“We were just taking what they gave us,” Yates said. “They kind of backed off a little bit on us – the safeties and the cornerbacks were playing off a little bit on us. We just took what they gave us and tried to get some yards after the catch.”
Through the first half, which was the only time the starting unit was intact, the offense converted 50-percent of its third downs into first downs, accumulated 227 yards, and averaged 5.4 yards a play. Additionally, the 42 points scored in the first half marked the most UNC has scored in a half since putting up 52 in the opening half against Duke in 2000.