The elephant in the room came back to bite North Carolina square in the backfield Saturday against Virginia Tech.
Hushed under the rug during UNC's first two wins was the uncomfortable truth — the Tar Heels lacked a consistent running game.
There's nothing like a 20-17 loss to Virginia Tech to throw that into sharp relief.
Greg Little's stat line from the game on the surface looks respectable — 18 rushes for 71 yards — but take away his 50-yard touchdown run and the box score turns to a dismal 17 rushes for 21 yards.
That's an average of 1.23 yards per carry.
Backup Shaun Draughn did no better rushing five times for 10 yards with one fumble lost.
As a team North Carolina rushed 32 times for 103 net yards.
But factor in that UNC rushed 15 times for no gain or for a loss of yards" and the stats add up to a lack of consistency on the ground.
""The holes are definitely there; there are some things here and there that we didn't pick up" Little said.
But as a running back it's not always going to be there. But you've got to make it sometimes you've got to make that yard after contact" that's what's going to help your running game.""
Some credit can be given to Virginia Tech" always a solid defensive team.
The Hokies routinely put eight men in the box on first and second down to clog running lanes" and UNC got virtually nothing between the tackles until Little's 50-yard scamper in the third quarter.
""You're not going to get four or five yards every play against Virginia Tech"" coach Butch Davis said. It just doesn't happen.""
But Davis also said that a good part of his team's running struggles was self-inflicted.
""We've got to do a much better job blocking at the point of attack"" he said.
Our offensive line and our tight ends and our running backs have got to run where they're supposed to go. We've got to do a much better job with our running game.""
Those problems were thrown into the national spotlight when UNC went up 17-3 on the Hokies and looked poised to break the game open" or at least grind it out.
But with Virginia Tech on its heels and an offense that looked to be clicking UNC's last four drives consisted of two three eight and four plays taking a total of 6:34 off the clock.
In contrast during that same span Virginia's offense had the ball for 13:53 pounding away at UNC's defense. That same defense which had held Va. Tech to just three points in the first half gave up 17 in the game's final 17 minutes.
Where UNC's backs coughed up the football twice in the game Virginia Tech's running backs reeled off three straight runs for first downs in the final quarter to take critical time off the clock and protect the lead from the team's late rally.
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