UNC trying to get offense moving vs. No. 10 Miami
As North Carolina nears the midpoint of the season, Larry Fedora's Tar Heels still haven't figured out how to get their offense moving like last year.
The Tar Heels (1-4, 0-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) host No. 10 Miami on Thursday night knowing they'll have to move the football better to give themselves a chance.
Their line hasn't protected quarterback Bryn Renner as well and hasn't opened as many running lanes. The tailbacks haven't consistently made the plays that are there. And there have been smaller breakdowns — a missed block here, a miscommunication there — throughout the lineup that keep tripping up the Tar Heels.
As a result, UNC's numbers are down in several categories, most notably by 17 points from last year's record average of 40.6 per game.
For the Tar Heels, there are no easy solutions.
"We're not playing up to our expectations and our goals this season," offensive tackle James Hurst said. "You want to play better than we have. But those games have been played and there's nothing we can do about them now besides look at them to correct ourselves. That's the kind of attitude we're having."
While no one expected the offense to struggle, there were some indications that this year's unit would need some time to gel. Star tailback Gio Bernard was gone to the NFL, along with three linemen who were also selected in the draft.
That quartet helped North Carolina shatter the previous school record of 35.1 points per game and racked up 5,817 yards of total offense — nearly 600 more than the school record set in 1993 — for an average of nearly 486 per game in Fedora's first season. North Carolina scored at least 40 points six times and twice cracked 60 while running a no-huddle spread.
It appeared that the Tar Heels could pick up where they left off with the return of Renner, Hurst, tight end Eric Ebron and receiver Quinshad Davis. But it hasn't happened.
The Tar Heels are averaging 23.6 points and 392.8 yards. The biggest drop has come in the running game, where UNC is averaging just over half of last year's total at 100 yards per game.
On top of that, the Tar Heels have given up 11 sacks this year, matching the total for all of last year.
"We knew the first half of our schedule was going to be extremely tough with as many new parts as we've got," offensive coordinator Blake Anderson said.
"If you look out there at any given time, you're dealing with a lot of guys with low reps under their best. And it's something every snap. It's not just the running backs, it's not on the O-line. ... I think we're getting better. I don't know if it's as easy to see as you'd like it to be."
The Tar Heels are coming off a 27-17 loss at Virginia Tech. Renner sat out with a foot injury and backup Marquise Williams led UNC to 376 yards against the ACC's top defense, though the Tar Heels undermined that effort with three turnovers.
The Hurricanes (5-0, 1-0) could make things tougher. They boast the nation's No. 9 scoring defense (16 points) and No. 12 total defense (307 yards). And Miami coach Al Golden has his defense ready for the fast tempo that Fedora and Anderson want to run.
Whether that pace equals production remains to be seen.
"We know they're coming in as a top-10 team and they're going to have a lot of firepower offensively and defensively," Renner said. "We have to play every possession and just keep moving the chains."