2021 Production Loss – North Carolina

Next up on Pitt’s ACC schedule are the North Carolina (UNC) Tar Heels.

Like the head coach of last week’s review, Mack Brown enters his fourth season at the helm of the Tar Heels. In his second stint at UNC, he is 21 – 17 (14-12 conference, 6-3 OOC, and 1-2 in bowls). His best season was in 2020 where they went 8-4.

What is unusual about North Carolina is that they have two coaches on staff who won national championships. Mack Brown won his in 2005. Gene Chizik, hired this year as the assistant head coach of defense (defensive coordinator), won his in 2010 at Auburn.

UNC’s 2021 results and the 2022 schedule.

North Carolina opens the season in Week “zero” against the Florida State Rattlers. By that schedule arrangement, UNC opens up a second Bye week. That second Bye is preceding the home game against Notre Dame.

Speaking of Notre Dame, they are scheduled to play only four ACC games in 2022. They will play six in 2023. In the Covid year of 2020, ND was originally scheduled to play six ACC teams. The 2024 ND schedule only includes four ACC teams.

Besides UNC, ND will play Syracuse, Clemson, and Boston College. Clemson will also have a bye week. Is it a coincidence or on purpose that the two strongest teams have a bye before ND?

Pitt is not the only team playing a Group of 5 (G5) away game. UNC is playing Appalachian State in Boone, NC. Charming small town in the mountains. Also known as the closest ski resort area near Charlotte.

Here are the Rivals 5.7 and above 2022 commits. Also included are the current Transfer Portal (TP) additions.

Brown is known as a recruiter. UNC’s Rivals ranking in his first three true classes #12, #15, #11.

Another two TP entries on Phil Steele’s preseason ACC list. Not surprised with Noah Taylor as he was a second team 2021 All ACC Selection. Gaynor played and started in three games last year. I am assuming he was injured.

UNC has lost 14 players to the TP this cycle. Speaking of the TP, I assumed that the portal entries would slow to a trickle. It has not. To me, it seems like the period between February and the onslaught of spring practices.

On to the stars identified as NCAA team leaders in selected stats or members of the 2021 All ACC teams. I have added a new stat –  Athlon’s 2022 preseason All ACC Conference’s four teams. I do not have Phil Steele’s ALL ACC selections. But a UNC site named the nine players selected.

I doubled checked and both Athlon and Phil Steele do not think as highly of LB Noah Taylor as the voters in the 2021 All ACC selections.

The  offense revolves around QB play. I have added sacked and yards lost to the QB chart.

The Tar Heels QB position has not been settled. Criswell is a Rivals 5.8, 4-star in the class of 2020. Maye is a 5.9, 4-star in 2021. We will find out who starts around the same time we find out if it is Patti or Slovis.

UNC does have a third QB. A 2022 recruit who was not a Rivals rated 5.7 or above.

UNC running backs and receivers 2021 activity. Also returning production summary for Pitt, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, Louisville, and UNC.

The Tar Heels lost a lot of production especially in the run game. They are high on their three returning RB’s especially British Brooks (9.5 yards/attempt).

I expect whoever becomes the starting QB, he will be a running QB. One of the surprises of the 2021 season was Sam Howell’s rushing yardage. In 2020, he ran for 146 net yards. He had 828 in 2021.

The returning WR’s are solid. Josh Downs is in the running for best WR in the ACC.

What does the Oline stats tell us? I added Pitt allowed sacks and tackles for loss.

Last year, UNC was just horrendous in protecting the QB and opening holes for the RB’s. And they lost three starters. No wonder Howell ran so much. Over ten percent of UNC’s total offensive plays resulted in negative yardage.

They do have two returning starters and four with starting experience, I did not make a note but I believe Tunall ( one start, one game played) was injured and missed most of the season. He is back for this year.

We discussed Louisville QB Malik Cunningham last week. As you are aware, I have been referring to QB rushing yards as “Net rushing yards.” Really, all rushing yards are net of lost yardage. The difference is that there are easily found stats for sacks on a QB while TFL’s on an individual running back are hard to find.

If we compare gross yardage (net yards plus sack yards) and “true” rush carriers (carriers minus sacked), Cunningham only gained 30 more yards than Howell on 18 more carriers. FYI, Pitt held Howell to a net 28 yards on 17 carries. (Gross 59 yards, 5 sacks for minus 31 yards)

That ends my fun with stats lesson for the day. Besides my wordcount needed beefing up.

On to the defensive review.

North Carolina had 40 players make a defensive stat. But five of them were offense players. Three were special teams players. That leaves 32 defensive players making a stat.

The chart below strips out the non-defensive players and eleven players who did not make at least 10 or more tackles.

The below chart includes 21 players- eight DB’s, five DL’s and eight LB’s making up (and I mean made up) a “10 tackles two deep.” I did not have to lower my goal of ten tackles to make a near “two deep.”

Tomari Fox (DL) is highlighted in bright green. He is/was not injured and out for the season. He has a different problem. He is currently under a NCAA one-year suspension for using a banned substance. I am not sure if he has one more appeal before ii is officially official. His 2021 stats are not included in returning production.

NCAA denies Tar Heel DE Tomari Fox’s appeal of season-long suspension for banned substance use (espn.com)

Returning production looks above ACC normal with only the LB position below average. No wonder UNC snapped up LB Noah Taylor from the TP.

To help put all of the defensive data into perspective, here are the UNC 2021 NCAA defensive stats.

Overall, in my down and dirty grading, UNC’s 2021 defense had a solid D grade. No wonder UNC hired Gene Chizik. Chizik made his bones as a defensive coordinator.

Brown’s recruiting prowess needs to start paying off. The defense needs to make a giant leap forward. I can see seven regular season wins and Pitt is not one of them.