CHAPEL HILL — From the newspaper, this morning, a story about North Carolina’s problems in the red zone. The problem is this: The Tar Heels aren’t scoring enough touchdowns when they drive inside their opponents’ 20-yard line.
In the 27-23 defeat against Miami, this was especially problematic. UNC drove inside the Miami 20 five times, and scored a touchdown on just one of those drives. And that touchdown came on a 20-yard pass from Bryn Renner to Quinshad Davis.
In overall red zone offense, UNC hasn’t been bad. Seventeen of its 19 red-zone drives have ended with points – which ranks tied for 21st nationally. When it comes to ending those red-zone drives with touchdowns, though, it has been a different story.
UNC has scored touchdowns on just 10 of its 19 red-zone drives. That ranks tied for 97th nationally.
For a while, the Tar Heels made the most of its opportunities inside their opponents’ 20. UNC scored touchdowns on four of its five red-zone drives in its victory against Middle Tennessee State. At Georgia Tech, the Tar Heels drove inside the Yellow Jackets’ 20 twice, and scored touchdowns on both of those drives.
Since then, though, UNC has scored touchdowns on just three of its nine red-zone drives – with the most glaring struggles coming in the loss against Miami last Thursday. End just one of those other four drives with a touchdown (three ended in field goals and another in a blocked field goal that Miami returned for a touchdown of its own), and the outcome is likely different.
Davis, the UNC receiver, said the red-zone struggles made him “sick.”
Blake Anderson, the UNC offensive coordinator, explained the red-zone issues this way:
“This particular game, we definitely plagued ourselves. And we’ve made some critical mistakes that just derailed us and put us behind the chains. That’s really what happened. The chop block call put us way behind the chains. We had two running plays in a row that netted a minus-four yards just because of missing blocks and missing technical (assignments). We had numbers, we had good looks, and we just did a poor job. That happened really on two series, and then we had the (blocked) field goal. But it’s just, we’ve got to do a better job of what we’re doing. We’ve got to execute better. We can’t afford to be behind the chains like we were. We’ve got to be able to run the ball in the end zone. If people play coverage, we’ve got to be able to run the ball in the end zone. We didn’t get that done. So it’s obviously an issue. But in terms of getting points – we’ve gotten points more down there than we did this time last year, but we’re not scoring enough touchdowns, and we’ve got to finish in the end zone.”
As I covered in the story linked above, two things seem to be hurting UNC in the red zone more than anything else: An inability to run, which has plagued the Tar Heels regardless of field position. And the natural limitations of the spread offense, which is easier to defend when there’s less space behind the defense.