'It crushes my heart': North Carolina offense struggles to keep up with defense

UNC vs ND DTH LexiBaird 10-7-17-3

Running back Michael Carter (8) makes a cut against Notre Dame on Oct. 7 in Kenan Memorial Stadium.

Through six games, Chris Kapilovic still doesn’t have the answer.

When North Carolina finished 6-7 in 2014, its last losing season, the offense ran rampant and the defense just couldn’t keep up. In three of the seven losses, the Tar Heels still racked up at least 35 points in each game. But this year, that trend has reversed.

“That’s not something I’m accustomed to,” Kapilovic, North Carolina’s offensive coordinator, said on Tuesday. “We’re used to putting points on the board, and so ultimately you feel like you’re letting the team down.”

The Tar Heels have been forced to adjust to injuries and develop young players sooner than expected, but the lack of offensive output is still alarming. UNC hasn’t topped 17 points in three games.

Coming into this year, North Carolina averaged over 425 yards and 30 points per game under head coach Larry Fedora. Through six games in 2017, those averages are down to around 373 yards and 25 points per game.

“It can be frustrating,” wide receiver Anthony Ratliff-Williams said. “You have to take it in stride and realize those kind of things are going to happen sometimes. It’s just a matter of understanding that, going back to the drawing board on Monday and getting better week by week.”

Despite the sputtering offense, games have still been close early on. In a change of roles, it is the defense giving North Carolina a chance. Take Notre Dame, for example. North Carolina came out of the gate with five straight three-and-outs, but the Fighting Irish didn’t score until the second quarter.

And while the defense has been playing well, it hasn’t been shutting teams down. Even the best defenses are going to snap if they are consistently forced into bad situations. Notre Dame dominated possession last Saturday — 36:32 to 23:28 — and subsequently, holes in the Tar Heel defense widened.

Keeping the defense off the field is as much of a problem for the defense as it is for the offense — an offense that still lacks an identity.

Part of the unit’s problem is the lack of a consistent rhythm. Quarterback Chazz Surratt — a redshirt first-year who has only started five games in his college career — has looked uncomfortable at times. Kapilovic said his offensive line has been performing “spotty at best,” and the team’s receiving corps have almost run dry.

Starting running back Jordon Brown is averaging less than 50 rushing yards per game. Three receivers, including starters Austin Proehl and Thomas Jackson, are out for the year. And Surratt has thrown an interception against each of the past three opponents after opening the season with three clean sheets.

Kapilovic is still searching for answers. If the offense can figure something out and the defense can continue to improve, you could see this team get back in the winning column soon.

But right now, there are still only question marks.

“I hate it,” he said. “It crushes my heart because (the defense) is playing so damn hard and well. They’re giving us some opportunities to win some games and we’re not coming through.”



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