Current Date: Mon, 10 Mar 2014 07:50:00 -0400
At this point, the question has become an inevitability.
At every press conference, every practice, every media opportunity, Larry Fedora is almost always asked about tempo. And almost always, the North Carolina football coach gives the same answer: “It’s not there yet,” he’ll say. Or, “It needs to be faster.”
On Saturday, Fedora coached his team to a 66-0 victory against Idaho, breaking an 84-year-old school record for points and recording the most one-sided win in UNC history.
Again, the question of offensive tempo surfaced after the game, and again, Fedora wasn’t ready to say that UNC had reached his desired pace.
But this time, he didn’t seem entirely dissatisfied either.
“We had 79 plays tonight, and we basically ate the clock the entire fourth quarter,” Fedora said. “So our tempo is much better than it was at the beginning of the season. And our guys don’t even notice it.
“That’s when you know things are right — when they don’t even notice that they’re going fast anymore.”
But just how fast is fast?
Fedora has said there is no magic number of plays per game that he has in mind. And before Saturday, UNC had averaged about 72 plays per contest — just seven fewer than its total against Idaho.
The most notable difference is in how much time UNC actually takes to score.
In last week’s win against East Carolina, UNC averaged 3:44 per scoring drive. But on Saturday, the Tar Heels averaged just 1:49, wasting little time in carving through a gelatinous Idaho defense.
“It’s pretty amazing that we can do it like that,” freshman wide receiver Quinshad Davis said.
“Hopefully, we can get it to Oregon, Auburn and Clemson’s level one day.”
Of course, those teams are well known for their offensive firepower. Chip Kelly’s No. 2 Ducks, for instance, average 85 plays and 52 points per game, while running a spread offense similar to UNC’s.
The Tar Heels have shown similar explosiveness, but they’ve done so in spurts, such as in the 20-point fourth quarter they put up against Louisville on Sept. 15.
The issue for UNC had been extending that scoring moxie to an entire game.
Fedora said starting off strong was an emphasis in practice leading up to Saturday, and the Tar Heels responded by putting up 45 points in the first half alone.
But UNC’s offensive outpouring against the Vandals came against a unit ranked 100th — of 120 Division I teams — in total defense.
Now with conference play picking up again this weekend against Virginia Tech, it becomes even more imperative that UNC continues to find an early rhythm.
“A lot of people have been saying the Tar Heels are a second-half (team),” running back Giovani Bernard said. “But for us we wanted to show everybody that we can do it in the first half.
“And with a game like V-Tech coming up, we gotta start fast … and not just wait until the second half to come back.”
Again, much of that comes down to tempo.
That’s the message Fedora and the coaching staff have tried to espouse since day one, and they’ve certainly made their players aware of it.
On Saturday, it appeared as though the Tar Heels may have gotten the tempo near where it needs to be.
But going forward, can they keep up the pace?
That’s the question.
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