It was another mediocre season defensively for UNC under second-year defensive coordinator Gene Chizik. The Tar Heels finished the regular season eighth in the ACC in yards per play allowed (5.42) and particularly struggled against the run.
North Carolina improved in some areas between Chizik’s first and second seasons in Chapel Hill. But the numbers are contradictory and enigmatic — not unlike UNC’s 2016 season itself.
The Heels gave up slightly fewer yards per play in the 2016 regular season than in the 2015 season (5.5) as a whole. But last season’s figures take into account UNC’s postseason losses to Clemson and Baylor.
UNC hasn’t given up as many big plays on the ground this season compared to 2015. But they’ve allowed significantly more yardage per pass play, while failing to produce turnovers.
In 2015, UNC allowed its opponents 5.1 yards per rushing attempt, though that number spiked after the Tar Heels gave up an all-time bowl record 645 rushing yards to Baylor.
This season, the Tar Heels are allowing 4.6 yards per carry despite giving up more rushing yards than any other ACC program during the regular season (235.5 per game).
UNC’s pass defense numbers over the past two seasons are also confusing.
The Tar Heels are giving up a full yard more per pass play this season. They’ve surrendered 7.1 yards per pass in 2016, compared to 6.1 yards in 2015.
Carolina is also allowing a yard and a half more per reception — 12.6 yards per reception this fall, compared to 11.1 yards per catch last year.
One of the biggest letdowns for the Tar Heels this fall has been the almost complete lack of turnovers in the secondary.
Remarkably, UNC didn’t get an interception until Dominquie Green’s pick-six in the second-to-last regular-season game against The Citadel. It’s the only pass the team has picked off this season.
As Chizik and the UNC defense look ahead to 2017, it will be essential to find ways to force more turnovers, while also identifying players who can improve the team’s run support.