The low point for the North Carolina offense came earlier this month during a 34-17 defeat against Virginia Tech. There were penalties and incorrect receiving routes and not much of a running game and no flow, or rhythm.
And, when it ended, there was a loss for the Tar Heels and just 323 total yards – their fewest of the season and their third-fewest under coach Larry Fedora. Since then, though, UNC’s offense has performed like the one Fedora and his players talked about throughout the preseason.
UNC put up 510 yards in a 50-43 loss at Notre Dame and then gained 579 yards last week during a 48-43 victory against Georgia Tech. Entering the Tar Heels’ game on Saturday at Virginia, the offense has provided reason for optimism that a second-half turnaround is possible for the second consecutive year.
That thought didn’t exist after that defeat against Virginia Tech. And it didn’t exist, either, amid the team’s earlier offensive struggles – the slow starts, the constant mistakes, the puzzling early game quarterback rotation between Marquise Williams and Mitch Trubisky.
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“We were basically just tired of getting beat down, as an offense,” Williams said earlier this week. “We were tired of starting slow. … As an offense, we’ve come together. We knew we had to finish drives. And we knew we couldn’t turn the ball over that much. And we had to execute on third down.”
Williams, more than anyone, has been most responsible for UNC’s resurgence on offense. He has earned ACC Offenseive Back of the Week honors the past two weeks – a stretch in which he has accounted for 898 yards of total offense and eight touchdowns.
A week ago, he did mostly what he wanted against Georgia Tech’s beleaguered defense. Virginia’s defense, which ranks among the top 25 nationally, will offer a more considerable challenge.
Williams said a key difference for him the past two games is that he has been “in a rhythm.” He has not come out on the third offensive series, as he did earlier this season when coach Larry Fedora elected to insert Trubisky, a redshirt freshman, into games.
The situation surrounding Williams has improved, too. The offensive line is as healthy as it has been all season and that, in turn, has led to more success in the running game. UNC gained 189 yards rushing against Georgia Tech – its most since the season-opener against Liberty.
More important, the Tar Heels snapped a four-game losing streak. A victory at Virginia would put UNC in the thick of the Coastal Division race, and this after a dreadful start to the season.
“Even when we were in that four-loss streak there, the guys were not down,” Fedora said earlier this week. “They were not depressed. I mean, they were anxious to get back into the win column. They were – they kept believing and kept working hard.”