College Football: Tar Heels struggling to post points
By Aaron Beard
CHAPEL HILL ó While No. 24 North Carolina’s defense has lived up to its preseason billing, so too has the Tar Heels’ uncertain offense.
Two games into the season, North Carolina’s defense has allowed just 16 points and ranks among the nation’s best in several categories. The unit is having to carry more than its share of the burden, though, while a young offense fights through poor execution, dropped passes and bad blocking.
“Everybody knows our defense is doing an amazing job,” quarterback T.J. Yates said Monday. “It’s definitely something you know on the sideline, that your defense is playing hard. Some people let you know about it, too, on the sideline. That’s not a bad thing. You’ve kind of got to know that you’ve got to hold up your end of the bargain.”
That relationship was clearly on display during the weekend at Connecticut. UNC (2-0) couldn’t find any room to run and didn’t score a point until the fourth quarter. But the defense held the Huskies to just 196 yards to keep the Tar Heels close until the offense finally did enough to win.
Heading into this weekend’s game against East Carolina, the Tar Heels rank sixth nationally in pass efficiency defense, seventh nationally in total defense (174.5 yards) and 14th nationally in rushing defense (51 yards). The Tar Heels have also held opponents to a 4-for-29 success rate on third-down conversions, have racked up 19 tackles for losses and forced six turnovers. It’s been what most expected with nine returning starters from a unit that had a knack for forcing turnovers last year.
As for the offense, Yates is throwing to an unproven group of receivers charged with replacing the production lost when Hakeem Nicks, Brandon Tate and Brooks Foster became NFL draft picks. The running game that looked smooth against The Citadel to start the year couldn’t move the ball against the Huskies, finishing with just 35 yards ó with most of that coming in the final quarter when the Tar Heels finally started moving the ball.
It wasn’t pretty, as evidenced by the Tar Heels dropping five spots in this week’s AP Top 25 poll despite the win.
“Sometimes the maturity of your football team gets tested in games like that,” coach Butch Davis said. “It’s one of the best examples that I’ve seen where, when things are going wrong, the defense is like, ‘We’ve got them. We’ll keep stopping them.’ And nobody was pointing fingers at anybody.”
The receiving corps is still a question mark. Greg Little had eight catches for just 45 yards against the Huskies, and freshman Erik Highsmith (West Craven) came through with four catches and 59 yards. But the Tar Heels might be without Zack Pianalto, who dislocated his right foot while celebrating after catching the tying touchdown pass to finish with seven catches for 87 yards.
The offense’s best asset is probably Yates’ experience under center. He started his entire freshman year and played in seven games last year despite being sidelined with a broken ankle. He also came through to direct the 13-play, 76-yard TD drive to tie it with 2:36 left.
“Offensively, their numbers are not as impressive as they are from a defensive standpoint,” East Carolina coach Skip Holtz said. “I know that T.J. Yates is one of the most impressive quarterbacks I’ve seen since I’ve been here. … I know they’re struggling a little bit offensively, but at this point, it certainly isn’t because of him.”