Sun Bowl gives UNC offense a chance to achieve, not underachieve

Even though the Tar Heels put together another productive season, averaging 33 points and 442 yards per game, their uptempo attack wasnt explosive enough to prevent a disappointing finish that included upset losses to rivals Duke and NC State

Christine T. Nguyen—The North State Journal
North Carolina quarterback Mitch Trubisky (10) is sacked by Duke linebacker Ben Humphreys (34) during the first half of the NCAA college football game on Thursday

The best defense for the North Carolina football team over the past few year has been an explosive offense capable of outscoring opponents when the need arises. But even though the Tar Heels put together another productive season, averaging 33 points and 442 yards per game, their uptempo attack wasn’t explosive enough to prevent a disappointing finish that included upset losses to rivals Duke and NC State. “As you go back and look at it, I think we underachieved offensively,” coach Fedora said before his team left for El Paso, Tex., where it will seek to finish on a high note against Stanford in Thursday’s Sun Bowl. “We didn’t meet our expectations offensively and I think that was a big part of why we weren’t successful in those games (against the Blue Devils and Wolfpack). Not to take anything away from the opposing teams, they did a great job in defending us, but we’ve got high expectations for what we do on offense and I didn’t think we performed like we normally do.” Statistically, at least, the late season offensive dropoff wasn’t dramatic. It was just enough to get UNC beat in a pair of games it might otherwise have won had it just been able to match its season averages. The Tar Heels (8-4) were held to 27 points, including just a pair of field goals in the second half, in a 28-27 setback at Duke on Nov. 10, then saw a late rally fall short in a 28-21 loss to the Wolfpack two weeks later. Fedora blamed his team’s late slump on the offense’s inability make routine plays that it normally makes. That, however, may be oversimplifying things. The main causes of UNC’s downfall were turnovers, an inability to run the ball consistently — especially in short yardage situations — some questionable play calling and problems extending drives with third-down conversions. The Tar Heels rank second in the ACC on third down, but were successful on only 10 of 24 opportunities against Duke and State. “I think it’s just a lack of focus and then a lack of execution,” quarterback Mitch Trubisky said. “I think some of the games we came out and we expected to win, but we didn’t do the things necessary to win and put us in a better position to win.” Health also factored into the equation. The Tar Heels’ offense wasn’t the same after losing top deep threat receiver Mack Hollins and offensive line anchor Caleb Peterson to season-ending injuries in a win at Miami on Oct. 15. While Thursday’s Sun Bowl matchup with an equally underachieving Stanford team (9-3) won’t do anything to make amends for UNC’s stumble to the finish, which caused it to miss out on a shot at defending its ACC Coastal Division title, it will at least provide Trubisky and his offensive teammates with an opportunity to finish on a high note. The junior quarterback, whose recent first round NFL draft grade has raised speculation that this might be his final game as a Tar Heel, said the month that has passed since the last regular season game is the best thing that could have happened to his team. “It’s a simple game and I think we tried to overcomplicate it,” Trubisky said. “As players we just need to buy in and execute. “We’ve had a little more time to one, take care of our bodies, two, watch more film on Stanford and three, prepare and practice more for the game plan we have set in. If you look at it, we should be more prepared for this game than any other game based on the time we have for it. Even with the extra preparation, the Tar Heels won’t be in for an easy time against a Stanford defense that ranks 36th nationally in total defense and is holding opponents to 4.1 yards per carry on the ground. Fedora said that the key to his team’s success against the 16th-ranked Cardinal will be its ability to run the ball effectively, since “when we do that, everything tends to be better.” But in order to do so, the Tar Heels will have to rely on senior T.J. Logan (578 yards, seven touchdowns on 101 carries), since leading rusher Elijah Hood won’t be available because of an undisclosed medical condition. Regardless of the circumstances and the available personnel, Fedora said that it’s important both for the future and the present of his program to accomplish at least one of its goals this season by beating a nationally ranked opponent in its final game. “It not only sets the tone for the offseason, it gives you a feeling about the previous season and that’s important, because one of our goals at the beginning of the year is to make sure we win our last game,” Fedora said. “That’s a goa