For the past three seasons under coach Butch Davis, North Carolina has never finished better than 92nd in the country in total offense. Aside from the highlight-reel plays by former wideout Hakeem Nicks, the Tar Heels’ offense has existed in relative obscurity. The defense, meanwhile, reached a peak last year finishing sixth in the country in total defense.
This year, Davis is looking for better balance, and if UNC is going to take the next step and win the Coastal Division in 2010, he’s going to have to find it.
“As you grow a football team and you grow the program, you don’t want to be disproportionate,” Davis said. “ … Part of the emphasis of this spring and this summer’s training camp will be to raise the experience level and the competitiveness of the offense.”
There were plenty of excuses for the Tar Heels’ lack of production on offense last year, but this season, the young receivers are no longer inexperienced, the offensive line should be healthier and more seasoned, and embattled quarterback T.J. Yates will be a senior with an improved supporting cast. The Tar Heels have 19 returning starters from last year's 8-5 team. If North Carolina’s offense can catch up to its defense – or at least cut down on turnovers and self-imposed mistakes – the Tar Heels can finally become the complete package and could be one of the best teams in the ACC if not the country.
“If I can do a lot better, take care of the ball – we’re going to have a lot better team than we’ve had in the past – so if the offense puts it together and holds up our end of the bargain, we know the defense is going to do an amazing job,” Yates said. “So if we can do that, we’re going to have a pretty good team and be hard to beat.”
UNC finished the 2009 season ranked No. 11 in the ACC in pass efficiency (115). Yates completed 60.3 percent of his passes for 2,136 yards, 14 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. Yates wasn’t entirely to blame, as he was working with three freshmen on the offensive line and three freshmen wide receivers. The Tar Heels lost their top running back and leading tight end to injuries, significantly limiting what they could do offensively.
“Defenses have to respect a lot of things that you can do, and if all you’ve got is Hakeem Nicks or Greg Little, because Shaun Draughn is hurt, the tight ends are hurt, we’ve got to become somewhat multidimensional offensively to where we gain some respect at a lot of skill positions,” Davis said. “I think we’ll definitely make some growth. It’s important this spring.”
Yates has been watching film with offensive coordinator John Shoop almost every day. He’s been throwing with the receivers at least three times a week, in addition to the running and lifting expected of the players during offseason conditioning.
Yates said he realizes the offense has to hold up its end of the deal this year.
“During the season last year we knew a lot of the times the defense took over for us and won us the game,” said Yates. “There was a stretch during the middle of the season when the offense was struggling in pretty much every way you could, with turnovers, not running the ball well, not passing the ball well. The defense created some turnovers, got us good field position. A lot of the times they won a game for us.
“The offense as much as we can, we just have to pick up our end of the bargain and control the ball on offense, not create turnovers, not put them in bad situations where they’re backed up against the wall. I know myself, the offensive linemen, running backs and the wide receivers, we’re working extremely hard this offseason to try and prove ourselves.”