The fourth quarter of Thursday’s upset victory against No. 14 Virginia Tech contained plenty of good signs for the rest of North Carolina’s season, and one of them was the ability to simply possess the football.
The Tar Heels effectively played keep-away in the late stages, as the offense controlled the ball for 11 minutes and 15 seconds of that 15-minute quarter.
It was a welcome change for an offense that had stagnated to the bottom of the ACC — the Tar Heels remain 10th in scoring offense and 11th in total offensive yardage, but Thursday’s success could bode well for the future.
In a classic “best defense is a good offense” scenario, UNC turned Va. Tech’s offensive playmakers into spectators.
Thanks largely to a 16-play, 78-yard drive that drained 8:59 off the clock, the Tar Heels did something they had only done twice before Thursday — they won the time of possession for the fourth quarter.
And this time, they won it big.
The formula was an impressive 3-6 conversion rate on third down and a 1-1 rate on fourth down.
“I thought our receivers and running backs did a great job of keeping us in manageable third-down situations,” coach Butch Davis said after the game.
At the same time, Va. Tech was only 1-3 in such situations. For the game, the Tar Heels converted 52 percent on third and fourth down, compared to the Hokies’ 38 percent.
UNC controlled the ball for 36:14 Thursday night, nearly 13 minutes more than the Hokies.
Va. Tech managed just one drive longer than four minutes, while UNC had scoring drives of seven, nine, 13 and 16 plays.
It’s a trend that has been notably indicative of UNC’s success. In the Tar Heels’ three losses this season, they have lost the time of possession battle 73:42 to 106:18.
In the team’s five wins, UNC has won the time of possession 160:16 to 139:44.
Greg Little a dual threat
During his time in Chapel Hill, Greg Little has been used as a wide receiver, then a running back and then a receiver again.
Now he seems to be finding his stride as a little bit of both.
Against Va. Tech, Little caught four passes for 58 yards and a score, and he also ran the ball six times for 38 yards. He led the Tar Heels in all-purpose yards.
“I thought Greg Little had a monster game tonight,” Davis said. “They took the perimeter away, and he ran tough inside.”
Little had similar stats against Florida State a week earlier, with 169 all-purpose yards and a touchdown.
During both games, Little also provided the offense with a jump-start. On UNC’s first scoring drive against Va. Tech, Little accounted for 51 yards. Against FSU, he notched 58, including the five-yard rush that put him and the Tar Heels in the end zone.
Offensive line back intact
For the first time since the season opener against The Citadel on Sept. 5, North Carolina played with every member of its original starting offensive line.
Senior center Lowell Dyer returned to the lineup Thursday after straining a muscle in his right shoulder during practice before the Connecticut game.
This offensive front helped UNC gain 181 yards on the ground and limit the Hokies to just two sacks of quarterback T.J. Yates.
Despite the extensive injuries to offensive linemen this season, North Carolina has only given up 19 sacks in eight games. That’s good for the fifth-best protection in the ACC.
Contact the Sports Editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.