As Hurricanes fans we've become accustomed to tossing out our favorite statistics. We do so because we must remind ourselves that Miami's defense has drastically improved, because we want to provide naysayers with meaningful numbers to illustrate how Mark Walton is simply better than you, and we do so this year in particular because, unlike past years, Miami Hurricanes statistics are actually worth bragging about.
North Carolina, the reigning Coastal Division Champion, is one tenacious beast of a team. They have an offense that doesn’t quit — the Virginia Tech game (and tropical storm conditions) aside. Quarterback Mitch Trubisky has led comeback victories over Florida State and Pittsburgh and now, he stares down the barrel at an impressive Hurricanes defense.
Everything about the Tar Heels has been tenacious, except… well, its D(efense). North Carolina’s lowly defensive performance has long been a criticism of Head Coach Larry Fedora. Defensive Coordinator Gene Chizik was hired in 2015 to turn around the wayward unit. So far, in 2016, there has been some improvement, most notably in pass defense and tackling, but problems still persist.
North Carolina’s passing attack is one of the best in the nation. Quarterback Mitch Trubisky is completing 70.2% of his passes on the year, and that’s including a 13 of 33 passing performance against the Hokies. Trubisky distributes the ball well, finding various receivers through timing and extending plays with his movement, and can throw on the run with accuracy. Until last week’s bout with Virginia Tech in tropical storm conditions, Mitch Trubisky hadn’t thrown an interception all year. The kid is just that good and unfortunately, he’s a Tar Heel.
Ryan Switzer is Trubisky’s favorite receiving target and for good reason. Swizter is quick, elusive, and has perhaps the most reliable hands of the Tar Heels’s receiver corps. Earlier in the season, when North Carolina squared off against Pittsburgh, Switzer tied a school record with 16 catches for 208 yards and a score.
North Carolina’s passing attack greatly overshadows its rushing offense (and probably for good reason). Under Larry Fedora, the Tar Heels have consistently ranked towards the bottom in rushing offense. Running back Elijah Hood, sidelined against the Hokies with an undisclosed injury, is North Carolina’s best back and appears healthy to play against the ‘Canes on Saturday. However, even with Hood, the North Carolina rushing attack has struggled. Hood has only rushed for over 100 yards in one game this season (18 carries for 106 yards and two touchdowns against James Madison).
While North Carolina’s offense can spar with any adversary, its defense is its Achilles heel. Strong rushing offenses such as Georgia, Florida State, Pittsburgh, and Virginia Tech have all found great success against the Tar Heels. Along with an ineffectiveness against the run, North Carolina’s defense ranks 101st in third down conversion percentage, allowing opponents to convert 44.8% of their chances.
Also, look at those ‘Canes defensive stats. Just take a moment to let all that sink in. I mean, really. Thank you, Mark Richt. And Manny Diaz, I love you!
UNC PREVIOUS OPPONENTS
Aside from last weekend’s matchup with the Hokies, the Tar Heels have been highly competitive. In wins over James Madison, Pittsburgh, and Florida State, quarterback Mitch Trubisky threw for over 400 yards in each game. His passing ability is critical to North Carolina’s success. Trubisky orchestrated come-from-behind drives against Pittsburgh and Florida State.
You can read further analysis of the North Carolina-Virginia Tech game in SOTU’s ACC Power Rankings.
With Mitch Trubisky slinging the rock, the Tar Heels are a force to be reckoned with. Defensive ineptitude may allow opponents to linger, to win; but with the pace at which North Carolina’s offense moves, Trubisky’s accuracy, and a strong stable of receivers, they are liable to come back again and again.
There you have it. While the numbers provide insight, the game itself will be a horse of a different color. Saturday is approaching rapidly and it's almost time to batten down the hatches. Remember that stats are your friend (let's be honest, probably your only friend). We here at SOTU wish only the best to you and yours and we'll be waiting for you in the game thread, because we don't get to go home anymore.