ACC Football: At 0-2, UNC goes back to the basics
CHAPEL HILLó Two straight Atlantic Coast Conference losses, two anemic performances on offense. To get things jump-started, North Carolina’s offense is going back to basics.
Coach Butch Davis hopes that, by simplifying the playbook and becoming less complicated, the Tar Heels’ inexperienced and injury-riddled offense can mask its age and its bumps and bruises.
“We have not been able to either, one, make some of our own opportunities, and, two, capitalize on some of the opportunities that are out there,” Davis said Monday.
North Carolina (3-2, 0-2) had just 154 total yards and never seemed to have the ball in a loss two weeks ago at Georgia Tech, and followed that by gaining 174 yards without a touchdown in a 16-3 loss to previously winless Virginia. That came after the Tar Heels had climbed to No. 19 in the polls and thought they had things figured out with a 433-yard performance in a victory over East Carolina.
This week was supposed to be a midseason breather against FCS member Georgia Southern before the conference schedule really heats up. But for a team that once was nationally ranked and hoped to contend for the Coastal Division title, there’s extra pressure to figure out what has gone wrong and find a way to fill out a depth chart that’s better known for who’s not playing anymore.
Five starters are among the eight players on offense who have combined to miss 16 starts, including tight end Zack Pianalto (dislocated foot) and center Lowell Dyer (shoulder).
“We started off in Week 1 basically where you would have started in Week 1, regardless of the experience of your football team ó you want to play well in Game 1,” Davis said. “Can you grow from there? There’s no way to find out whether some of these kids can do some of the things. We’ve got an awful lot of guys injured.”
That’s made it even tougher to bring along a tattered offensive line and a young receiving corps charged with replacing a trio of departed star wideouts ó including Hakeem Nicks, who’s now with the New York Giants and a day earlier scored his first career NFL touchdown.
Nicks’ jerseys and helmet have been preserved behind glass inside his locker, on display prominently inside the school’s football building. The Tar Heels sure could use him now.
“Maybe we should have scaled some of it back, but then we played so well against East Carolina and you thought, ‘OK, that’s kind of the measuring stick, that’s kind of where the barometer is. Now let’s see if we can push the envelope a little bit more,”‘ Davis said. “That might have been a mistake on our part, to try to add things the last two weeks.”
That can’t help but put extra pressure on a defense that ranks among the nation’s best. North Carolina is eighth nationally in total defense and fourth against the pass.
“As a defense, if you see your offense isn’t doing it, put it on our shoulders,” defensive end Robert Quinn said. “If they don’t score, they can’t win. If we shut the other team out, then, hey, our offense don’t have to put that (many points) on the board.”
Davis said his defensive players “have been put to the test” by the sputtering offense. He stood up for under-fire offensive coordinator John Shoop, saying “I don’t think he needs defending” and calling criticism of him unfair. And he put on a brave face when asked if frustration is setting in with his offense.
Trying to manage an uneasy smile, Davis said: “Frustration’s setting in with the head coach.”
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