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Marquise and The Mess: Meet the 2014 UNC Tar Heels

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

If your introduction to UNC's 2014 football team happened to be last Thursday night, you could be forgiven for thinking that Tar Heels team looked like the class of the Coastal Division. UNC got the jump on Duke with some takeaways and played well on both sides of the ball.

But that's not this UNC team. The Heels typically have been out of sorts in games all season, usually because the defense was terrible. The offense also failed to show up on occasion, managing just 3.7 yards per play against Miami, 4.9 YPP against Virginia Tech, and 5.3 YPP against ECU. Duke was an aberration, that once-a-season game where it all comes together.

The Tar Heels owe their bowl eligibility to an offense that's been able to keep them in games and deliver just enough scoring to earn narrow wins over Georgia Tech, Virginia, Pittsburgh, and San Diego State.

UNC Offense Off. S&P+ (national rank) Yds/Play
(national rank)
(national rank)
Yds/Pass Att.
(national rank)
2014 102.3 (52 out of 128)
5.7 (57) 4.0 (83) 7.4 (50)
2013 110.4 (35) 5.9 (48) 3.9 (85) 8.0 (26)

(Side note: NCSU's offense is ranked ahead of UNC's in S&P+ by a dozen spots or so ... is that as ludicrous as it seems to me?)

Looking back at the statistics from those close wins, it's hard to imagine anything they did could have could have been enough. SDSU averaged nearly 6.9 YPP, Georgia Tech was up close to nine, and Pitt was at 7.6. You show me those numbers before the game and I'm assuming a speedy trip to L-town for the opposing team every time.

The Heels said nuts to that crap, though. I think it was all that tire-beating by Larry Fedora. That's his time for introspection, for idea-making, and I'll be damned if it hasn't paid off.  It also helps to have a quarterback like Marquise Williams, who has been the first- or second-best signal caller in the ACC since league play started. No ACC quarterback has thrown for more touchdowns or completed a higher percentage of passes in conference games. (Jameis Winston is tied with him in both categories.)

His wheels also can boost an otherwise unremarkable UNC running game, which is an important note for State's defense. If the Pack allows him some easy yardage out of the pocket while continuing to tackle poorly, it's likely to be an unpleasant afternoon for the defense. I mean, hell, it might be regardless. State's needed to do more of the little things all year. This would be a good week to start.

UNC Defense Def. S&P+ (national rank) Yds Allowed/Play
(national rank)
Yds Allowed/Rush
(national rank)
Yds Allowed/Pass Att.
(national rank)
2014 90.4 (103)
6.4 (119) 4.8 (96) 8.6 (121)
2013 111.4 (39)
5.3 (39) 4.2 (61) 6.8 (41)

If you imagine UNC's defense as Homer Simpson in this clip, I'd say it sums up the Heels' season on this side of the ball. Significant declines across the board have made for some record-setting lows, and in theory NC State should be able to establish its rushing game against these guys.

It's worth a moment to reflect on how badly the Heels have managed to play for much of the season. Seven times they've allowed 6+ yards per play in a game; four of those seven opponents cracked 7.0 YPP; two of those four averaged over 8.0 YPP.

There are five FBS teams averaging seven yards or more per play this season. So in a third of UNC's games, they've watched opponents move the ball at an elite rate.

The Heels have given up 300+ on the ground three times (ECU, Pitt, GT), and only two of their opponents have been held under 150 yards rushing. For me this is all it's going to boil down to: either State is able to pick up where it left off against Wake and run effectively or it's going to have to rely on Jacoby Brissett's arm. In one of these scenarios I can see the Pack keeping up on the scoreboard, maybe pulling out a win; in the other, I see sadness. Whole lotta sadness.