(Before this starts, I need to add the disclaimer that I count points per possession the same way Dean Smith did. If you don’t know what that is, click here.)
In Roy Williams’ first four seasons at UNC (2003-04 through 2006-07), UNC played a total of 21 games when it allowed more than one point per possession. The 2004-05 team finished 3-1 in such games, but the 2004, 2006 and 2007 teams went a combined 5-12 when allowing more than one point per possession.
But since the 2007-08 season - a total of about 5.5 seasons, including this one - UNC has played in just 13 games when it has allowed more than one point per possession. UNC allowed Miami to score 1.13 points per possession, and it marked the third time this season it has allowed that high a mark. It’s also the first time since the 2008 season UNC has allowed 1.00 PPP or higher three times, which is fairly remarkable.
The 2011 team was the best in that regard, allowing just one team to do it - Long Beach State had 1.01 PPP, and North Carolina won that game .The 2012 team allowed it twice; Duke snuck over that mark in the comeback win at the Smith Center (1.0119) and Florida State scored 1.149, the highest mark UNC has allowed under Williams.
Here’s the thing about allowing more than one point per possession: most UNC teams in the past have been good enough offensively to offset a good performance. And more often than not, it’s been UNC’s struggling offensive performances that have gotten them beat more than the bad defense.
In the top ten highest points per possession games under Williams, UNC actually won four of them. Two were blowout losses (three, if you count how far UNC got down at Virginia Tech in 2007) and Florida State last year, Georgetown in 2007 and Gonzaga in 2006 all came down to the end, more or less.
Dean Smith used to say the idea was to keep opponents to 0.75 points per possession or below. UNC has lost just once in the last 9.5 seasons when that has happened. In 2010, the Tar Heels lost by ten at home to Duke despite holding it to 0.7442 points per possession. But that’s it. And that was because UNC was held to just 0.614 points per possession, the third-lowest mark of the Williams era.
And the idea, of course, is to score 0.85 points per possession or more. Carolina has reached that mark 255 times under Williams and lost just 27 of those (an .894 winning percentage). And guess what? In those 27 losses despite scoring 0.85 points per possession or more, Carolina allowed 0.90 points per possession or more in 22 of them and 1.00 PPP or more in nearly half (13).
Considering UNC has lost 75 games in that span, it’s somewhat unremarkable that 19 of those teams scored over a point per possession in those losses (just over a quarter). Again, more often than that, it’s been UNC’s own failure to score 0.85 PPP or more - 48 of UNC’s 75 losses have come when UNC has failed to reach 0.85 PPP, so there’s that. And in the last six seasons, it’s 34 of 45 losses.
Also, it’s worth noting that between 2008-11, UNC had a ridiculous 102-4 record in games when it scored 0.85 PPP or more. The Tar Heels went 24-4 in such games last year and are 9-2 when reaching that mark this season. In the national championship or Final Four seasons, UNC went a combined 94-3 in games when it reached the 0.85 PPP plateau; the 2008 team was undefeated in such games.
Highest PPP allowed by opponents under Roy Williams:
1.1487: Florida State, 2012 ACC Tournament Championship (L)
1.1299: at Miami, February 9, 2013 (L)
1.1294: Georgetown, 2007 NCAA Tournament Elite 8 (L)
1.1081: Gonzaga, 2006 Preseason NIT Championship, MSG (L)
1.1029: at Florida State, January 12, 2013 (W)
1.0805: at Virginia Tech, January 13, 2007 (L)
1.0667: NC State, 2007 ACC Tournament Finals (W)
1.0649: at Duke, March 6, 2010 (L)
1.0526: at Boston College, March 1, 2008 (W)
1.0471: Ohio State, November 29, 2006 (W)
1.0460: Notre Dame, 2007 Maui Invitational Championship (W)
1.0440: at Wake Forest, January 15, 2005 (L)
1.0380: Wisconsin, 2005 NCAA Tournament Elite 8 (W)
1.0375: at NC State, February 3, 2007 (L)
1.0253: Boston College, January 25, 2006 (L)
1.0337: Iowa, 2004 Maui Invitational Championship (W)
1.0241: Boston College, 2006 ACC Tournament Semifinals (L)
1.0233: at Georgia Tech, February 10, 2004 (L)
1.0227: at Florida State, January 22, 2004 (LOT)
1.0130: Texas, 2004 NCAA Tournament Second Round (L)
1.0130: Nicholls State, December 19, 2007 (W)
1.0128: at Kentucky, December 3, 2005 (W)
1.0127: NC State, February 18, 2009 (W)
1.0125: at Clemson, January 31, 2004 (L)
1.0123: Old Dominion, 2007 Las Vegas Invitational Semifinals (W)
1.0119: Duke, February 8, 2012 (L)
1.0111: Long Beach State, December 11, 2010 (W)
1.0000: Wake Forest, December 20, 2003 (L)
1.0000: Duke, February 7, 2006 (L)
1.0000: Butler, 2013 Maui Invitational Semifinals (L)
1.0000: Wake Forest, January 20, 2010 (L)
1.0000: at Florida State, January 22, 2006 (W)
1.0000: NC State, February 22, 2005 (W)
1.0000: at Miami, February 12, 2006 (W)
There’s a notion among the Carolina faithful that teams go out of their mind when they face the Tar Heels, making circus shots and raining down an endless barrage of three-pointers that they miss against everyone else. I won’t necessarily dismiss this, although obviously it’s not statistically provable. There’s certainly truth to the idea that some opponents will step up their game, consciously or unconsciously, against a name program that they would like to beat.
But this Carolina team, particularly in ACC play, has not really had that problem. Most teams are not playing way above their heads against Carolina. But the Tar Heel defense has gotten worse each game in league play, points per possession wise. To be fair, the quality of the opponent’s offenses have steadily risen as well (a bad Virginia offense, a good Miami offense and a good FSU offense).
Virginia is probably the only game so far that qualifies as an opponent “going crazy” from three or playing a bit above its capabilities, especially since the young Cavaliers have lost two games to Wake Forest and Clemson after beating UNC. But UVa has been up and down all year, and it was playing at home, riding some momentum from the fans.
While Virginia made 8-of-14 three-pointers against UNC and has shot a solid 38.1% from three this season, the Cavaliers are just 8-of-28 in the last two games combined. And that is a statistic that elicits an eye roll from Tar Heel fans everywhere.
Miami missed a number of open shots and still shot 47.2% from the floor, its best percentage since shooting 48% against Hawaii in late December. Yes, Miami’s nine three-pointers tied the most it has made this season. But a number of those were open looks, and even some of the open ones were missed. The 26 three-pointers also tied Miami’s most attempts of the year.
Carolina had some bad luck offensively against Miami, but the Hurricanes are actually a better defensive team than they are offensive. In the first half, Carolina defended Miami pretty well, which is why it led at half. In the second half, Carolina couldn’t stop penetration and/or recover after helping on drives. Hence the 5-of-14 made threes in that half for Miami, which really could have been worse.
Florida State shot its highest percentage of the season in league play (48%) and made 11-of-22 from three, but the Seminoles actually shoot three-pointers well this year (39.1%). In a win at Clemson, FSU made 10-of-23 threes (43.5%), not all that different from the way it shot against UNC.
Now, here’s one I will give you, though. Last year, Florida State - in two games against North Carolina - made 23-of-49 three’s (46.9%). Those 23 made three-pointers accounted for TEN PERCENT of all FSU’s made three’s last season, in just two games (out of 35 total). In fact, taking out FSU’s two games against UNC, the Seminoles’ three-point shooting percentage would have dropped an entire percentage point (from 35.4% to 34.3%).
In general, this year, Carolina is going to have to understand that yes, teams might hit more crazy, improbable, statistic-defying shots against them than they would another opponent. Sure, that’s possible. And it was arguably more true at Florida State than it has been all season. But this team is going to have to play tough, get through it and make more plays than the other guy because no one is going to feel sorry for them if that happens. And they did that on Saturday, which is a good sign.
After North Carolina beat ECU last Saturday, head coach Roy Williams was asked how different the atmosphere in the Smith Center was with former Tar Heel point guard Jeff Lebo back in the Smith Center, coaching on the other sideline. “The atmosphere was sort of like my team - it was a little different,” Williams said with a wry smile.
And it was...different. Pre-Christmas crowds are not generally huge, but it was actually a pretty good number considering it was a noon game against a non-marquee opponent: 19,147. (To put that in perspective, Carolina had 15,403 at the Florida International game earlier this year.) Still, though, the atmosphere was much like the team itself - a bit flat.
In a lot of the college basketball games I’ve covered this year, I’ve felt this increasingly palpable sense that the crowd feels as if they are owed entertainment. After all, they could be at home watching the game on television or streaming it on ESPN3, which is probably both the best and worst thing to happen to the league as a whole in quite some time.
Now, it seems like when a team goes through a stretch of bad play, the home crowd’s applause and shouts of encouragement seem to be changing into groans and - perhaps worse - silence.
The decline in attendance at sporting events has been a problem in all sports, not just college basketball. But somehow, everyone want to try to break things down individually. I’ve seen articles detailing that the University of Oklahoma’s basketball attendance is down because of the Oklahoma City Thunder, and in Miami, the problem is that the weather is good.
Even in some of the nation’s most successful television sports like NASCAR and the NFL, it’s been an issue. Some NFL teams consistently have to black out games locally because they can’t sell out.
The problem is really not specific to any one area or team, although there are of course nuances to each individual attendance issue. The problem is that people now feel like the game-day experience is not enough to make up for the convenience and comfort of watching from home, especially if you can’t get a decent seat.
At times, it’s hard to argue with that. As a reporter, I’m much closer to the action than most. I covered the Stanford-NC State game last night (the best non-conference home game for the Wolfpack, which drew 15,772). Afterwards, I was tweeting about Stanford head coach Johnny Dawkins playing a rotation of 12 (!) and how difficult it was to keep track of that. “Try sitting in the 300-level like I do for an extra challenge,” an NC State fan tweeted at me in response.
With the rise of television and online streaming of games, what really is the difference of that fan in particular watching the game at home or in the 300-level seats, where he can barely make out the forms of players down below? Is the in-stadium environment really enough to make up for that?
Some say it’s winning. But NC State has generated a ton of excitement among its fanbase, and it’s their best team in years, and even they were 4,000 under capacity last night for their biggest non-conference home game. So it’s not just winning, or excitement, or anything like that.
Wake Forest AD Ron Wellman said yesterday that Jeff Bzdelik and Wake Forest will see bigger crowds once he starts winning. Attendance has dropped so alarmingly there in the last few years that Bzdelik and the Deacons would likely have to go on an ACC Tournament and NCAA Tournament run to re-capture the fan’s imagination.
One of the more exceptions is Cameron Indoor. There’s not a bad seat in there, and fans don’t feel that the atmosphere of a game in person there can be replicated at home. And even still, Duke has had some attendance problems over the last few years, among the students especially.
Even when the fans do fill it up completely, Coach K has not been always pleased with the atmosphere. He sometimes comes out after halftime encouraging the fans and students to make more noise. When the crowd was deafening against Ohio State, Coach K made a point of reminding the fan base via the media that it could be like that every game, and perhaps it used to be.
I’m a huge advocate of the in-person game experience. You see, hear and feel things that you can’t when watching on television. For those who were at, say, the Duke-Carolina game in 2005, could you have imagined merely watching that on television and feeling the same way you did about it? Probably not.
It’s worth remembering how the crowd and the team fed off of each other in that game. If any fans still think the players somehow owe them a good product by their attendance at a game, remember that you as a fan have a responsibility too. Don’t sit on your hands the whole game, waiting for something to happen. Help make something happen.
A lot of fan bases have a tendency to remember bad games as worse than they really were. “We couldn’t hit a shot” after Carolina shot maybe 40% for the game. “They (the opponent) couldn’t miss.” Obviously, no team has ever shot 100 percent from the floor. That I know of. Okay, that’s semantics.
But last night, Indiana only hit eight three-pointers. It felt like the Hoosiers hit 80. They only had 12 fast break points, and that felt like at least 30 by Cody Zeller alone. And so last night, if you were watching and felt like Carolina could not hit a shot, you were probably right.
It wasn’t for the entire game, but it was enough. In Carolina’s first 23 possessions of the second half - a little over nine minutes of game action - the Tar Heels had three points, missed 18 shots and turned it over twice. It took just nine minutes (nearly a quarter of the game), and they went from down nine points to down 28.
There are a lot of reasons for the drought - youth, panic as Indiana’s lead ballooned, bad decision-making, poor ball movement - but surely, almost any team could luck into more than one field goal in nine minutes, right?
It didn’t help that Indiana got going offensively with about seven minutes left in the first half and didn’t slow their offensive onslaught until 10:49 remained in the game. In that stretch totaling about 16 minutes, the Hoosiers had 45 points on 39 possessions, missed 14 shots and turned it over three times. In their other 45 possessions before and after the run, they scored 29 points, missed 22 shots and had ten turnovers.
Even with a recovery of sorts that saw Carolina average a point per possession on its final 19 possessions of the game, Carolina still scored just 22 second-half points on 44 possessions. That’s 0.5 per possession. Most can tell that number is, well, bad. But to put it in perspective, Dean Smith wanted his teams to average 0.95 PPP in a season and hold opponents to below 0.85.
A cursory glance through stats from when I used to keep half-by-half points per possession revealed the last two times Carolina had a PPP that low in a half. Interestingly enough, it was the first half of the 2008 NCAA tournament loss to Kansas (0.61 PPP) and the second half of the 2008-09 team’s still-inexplicable home loss to Boston College (0.62 PPP).
(For the record, I’m sure Carolina had a half that bad or worse in 2009-10 and 2010-11, but I had stopped keeping half-by-half PPP.)
There was no sign it was coming, either. Not really. An Indiana run seemed inevitable, but Carolina had been keeping pace just fine in the first half, averaging 0.84 points per possession. When the wheels fell off, it took far too long for Carolina to even pull over to the side of the road, much less put the metaphorical wheels back on.
And really, the Butler loss in Maui wasn’t that different. Carolina’s struggles in that game came in the first half, when it averaged just 0.55 PPP. In the second half, they averaged 1.08 points per possession, but it wasn’t enough.
This young team is likely going to continue to have swings like this: maybe not from half-to-half (one has to hope not, at least for Roy Williams’ sake), but certainly from game-to-game. The Carolina faithful are just going to have to ride that roller-coaster along with them for now.
So far, the young Tar Heels are allowing just 0.687 points per possession, which would be a record for a Roy Williams team at UNC. Sure, you’ve got to consider opponents, how early it is, et cetera. But under Williams, no Carolina team has allowed that low an average per possession in its first three games.
The closest any team has come was a team that is reminiscent of this year’s young group: the 2005-06 squad, which allowed just 0.7179 points per possession in its first three games. That team ended as the fifth-best defensive squad under Williams at UNC, behind only two national championship teams and the 2011-11 and 2011-12 Tar Heels.
Now, if you’re getting too excited and need proof that it’s too small of a sample size? The 2009-10 Tar Heels began allowing 0.7235 points per possession and ended as the second-worst Williams’ defensive team, while the 2008-09 and 2004-05 Tar Heels had the worst and second-worst PPP averages allowed through their first two games. The 2004-05 team is still Williams’ best defensively, while the 2008-09 team is fourth:
1. 2012-13: 59.33 Points Per Game, 0.6873 Points Per Possession
2. 2004-05: 70.27 PPG, 0.7937 PPP
3. 2011-12: 67.08 PPG, 0.7981 PPP
4. 2010-11: 68.78 PPG, 0.8067 PPP
5. 2008-09: 72.08 PPG, 0.8092 PPP
6. 2005-06: 68.32 PPG, 0.8106 PPP
7. 2006-07: 68.63 PPG, 0.8120 PPP
8. 2007-08: 72.51 PPG, 0.8228 PPP
9. 2009-10: 71.92 PPG, 0.8334 PPP
10. 2003-04: 74.77 PPG, 0.8564 PPP
The good news about the young Tar Heels is that they’ve been fairly consistent in the early going, too. The 2009-10 team allowed two teams to put up a higher PPP than Carolina has allowed all year so far, but held one team - NC Central - to such a low average (0.4884) that it dragged down their three-game average. The 2005-06 team allowed Gardner-Webb to put up 0.899 PPP in its opener, but held Cleveland State and UCSB to below 0.8.
And since the 2007-08 season - or 189 Carolina basketball games, featuring three of the top five defensive teams under Williams - only 40 times have opponents been held to the same or lower points per possession as Carolina allowed in its worst defensive game at Long Beach State on Friday (0.724). Carolina’s best defensive performance was allowing 0.636 PPP against Florida Atlantic, and since 2007-08, Carolina has only been better than that defensively 11 times. Last year’s team did it three times, including in the opener on a boat against Michigan State.
There’s a catch, obviously - Carolina’s struggling to score the ball (0.925 points per possession). But if Carolina keeps defending like this, they have the potential to be the best defensive team since Williams came back to UNC.
Three-pointers might have kept them in the Long Beach State game early, but the ability to close out defensively against the 49ers - on the road - in the second half is ultimately why Carolina won the game. They’re going to have to follow a similar script much of the year until the offense begins to click, and even perhaps after it clicks. This team is clearly committed to defense, and it’s particularly impressive considering the amount of freshmen on this team.
During Saturday’s football game, I was trying to think about statistics, momentum-changing plays and the importance of one touchdown over another. And it all became almost laughable at some point. “Oh yes, Georgia Tech’s seventh touchdown was the most important game-changer!”
And so like most ACC fans this time of year, my mind drifted to basketball. First, it went to Georgia Tech - the Yellow Jackets had an anemic offense last year and failed to break 40 more than once. The football team scored 40 in the second half on Saturday. Both stats are mind-boggling, for all the wrong reasons.
Georgia Tech’s basketball team scored 68, the total its football team had - or less - in 22 of 31 games last year. Even North Carolina’s total of 50 points either equaled or outscored the 2011-12 Georgia Tech basketball team seven times.
With all the ugly ACC basketball we’ve seen in recent years, I started to wonder where Saturday’s football offensive explosion would rank. After all, it was about as enjoyable for most of the Carolina faithful as it is to watch the slow-down basketball games. But there were an ACC record 118 combined points scored.
In the 2011-12 season, ACC basketball teams played in 65 games that totaled 118 or fewer points, and 25 of those involved two ACC teams. The lowest combined score involving one ACC team last year was - you guessed it - Virginia! The Cavaliers faced off against Drexel in an epic battle that ended in a 49-35 Virginia win. Woof.
Virginia was the worst offender - the Cavaliers were in 19 games that totaled 118 points or less, including one of only two such games that Carolina was in last year. The other? That’s right - Carolina and Wisconsin combined for 117 last year. (“Good thing those two are playing this year in the ACC-Big 10 Challenge! That will be must-see TV,” something no one said ever.) And Carolina - the team that supposedly can’t win low-scoring affairs - won both. Only Duke was in fewer such games - just one, when they beat Virginia Tech 60-56 in the ACC Tournament.
Georgia Tech’s 68 points on the gridiron either equaled or surpassed the total an ACC team was able to reach in 201 games last season. ACC defenses held opponents to 68 or fewer points 235 times. Carolina’s 50 points were actually equal to or higher than the total an ACC team hit in 29 games last year.
As I suspected, Georgia Tech’s basketball team was the worst offender here, failing to score more than 50 points eight times last year. Boston College did it five times, Virginia four times, and no one else more than three. ACC teams were 3-26 in those games and two of the wins came against another ACC team.
ACC teams held opponents to Carolina’s total on Saturday of 50 or fewer points in 42 games last year and went 39-3 in such games (two losses to another ACC team). Virginia led the way in this category too, holding 12 opponents to 50 or fewer points and going 11-1 in such games (compared to 1-3 in games when they failed to hit 50).
This year, basketball is here again and ACC teams have held their opponent to 68 or fewer points 13 times in 17 games so far (to 50 or fewer four times). Thankfully, we’re experiencing a bit of a scoring barrage early in ACC play - only three ACC games have seen a league team fail to score 68 or more. We haven’t had an ACC team fail to hit 50 yet, but there have already been two games where the total hasn’t hit 118 (yes, Virginia was in one).
But there’s hope for the future - Boston College scored more than 68 points just three times last year and they already have an 84-point outing, surpassing their total in any game a season ago. The Georgia Tech basketball team put up 79 in its opener, more than it had in all but three games last year. Virginia Tech had 80 in its opener, more than it had last year in all but three games.
We’re living in a bizarro ACC where Carolina and Duke have yet to break 80 points while teams like Boston College, Virginia Tech and Florida State already have and - oh yeah - Florida State’s defense has allowed 46% shooting (47% from three) to South Alabama and Buffalo. So we’re just waiting on you to do something crazy, Virginia.
And yes, in case you’re wondering, the Carolina basketball team has held its first two opponents to a combined 115 points - less than the combined score of Saturday’s football game. You’ll be sick of this joke pretty soon, but...wait...yes, I think Georgia Tech just scored a touchdown.
Roy Williams has said he’d rather beat State than eat, and certainly his results have proven that (19-1 against them over his nine seasons at UNC), but it’s not a concept some of the younger UNC fans out there can really wrap their heads around. If you’re 30 or younger, you likely don’t remember an era when NC State was consistently good at basketball.
Under Jim Valvano, they were always good, but he left in 1990. If you’re 30, you might have some vague memory of that, but not much else. Up until I was 15 or 16 years old, I thought the 8-seed versus 9-seed game on Thursday of the ACC Tournament was actually called the Les Robinson Invitational (it isn’t, but his teams played in it almost every year in the 90s).
Herb Sendek went 64-34 over his last three years at NC State, making the NCAA Tournament all three times, but 14 of his 34 losses were to Big 4 teams. In his final two years, 11 of his 24 losses were to the Big 4.
NC State has actually had a better record than Carolina in two of the years that Roy has been at UNC (21-10 compared to Carolina’s 19-11 in 2004; 20-16 compared to 20-17 by Carolina in 2010). But even in Carolina’s “down” years under Williams, the Tar Heels still beat NC State, much to the chagrin of its fans. In fact, in 2010 - the year NC State has had its best shot to beat Carolina - the Tar Heels won by an average of 13.5 points.
It’s not as if NC State hasn’t been projected to have good teams before now. There was a lot of optimism surrounding Sidney Lowe’s 2008 team, which had a great ending to the 2007 season. For a variety of reasons, that team collapsed. And now, the Wolfpack has been picked to win the ACC this year by the coaches and the media, a fact that seems equal parts exhilarating and nauseating to NC State fans who are used to seeing everything fall apart.
For this Tobacco Road dweller, though, it’s just nice to see that all three schools are good. Or at least, somewhat good. NC State is rising up again, but Duke and North Carolina have fallen some, too. Last year ended a streak of eight straight years that either Duke or Carolina had finished in the top five of statistician Ken Pomeroy’s final rankings (UNC finished 7th and Duke was 20th). NC State was right there at 35, its best final since 2005 when the Wolfpack nearly got to play North Carolina in the Elite 8 before falling to Wisconsin.
Since Williams got to Carolina in the 2003-04 season, NC State has been to two Sweet 16s and just four NCAA Tournaments. Carolina won the national title twice, been to three Final Fours and made six Elite 8s. That’s probably why when Carolina’s Dexter Strickland essentially said NC State has to prove they can beat UNC before they can be "thrown into the mix," most NC State fans kind of shrugged, sighed and agreed.
One thing Duke and UNC fans can likely agree on, though: as NC State fans agonize over the pressure of their unproven squad being the preseason favorite, Duke and UNC get the rare opportunity to play the underdog role and they are going to enjoy the heck out of a year with little to no expectations.
It’s no secret that all season long, Giovani Bernard has been amazing, extraordinary, superb: insert any adjective you’d like. (Some informal adjectives, per my thesaurus, include “ace”, “A1” and “killer”. All seem applicable for Gio, but it also makes me wonder if my thesaurus is from the 1960’s.)
If anyone needs extra incentive to come out to Kenan Stadium for Carolina’s remaining two home games against Georgia Tech (on November 10) and Maryland (November 24), he should be enough. Against ACC foes at home, Bernard has 62 touches for 595 yards (9.6 per touch) and four touchdowns.
Bernard has 18 of Carolina’s 42 second-half points in the last two games and over the last three, he has 42 of Carolina’s 91 points (and seven of its ten touchdowns). But in the clutch is where Bernard has been at his best, particularly lately. (Interesting side note: neither “clutch” nor “Tebow” show up in my thesaurus. Weird.)
He has scored Carolina’s last touchdown in three straight games now (all close wins or losses) and he has three of Carolina’s six fourth-quarter touchdowns in the last two games; two of those were go-ahead scores.
It’s more than his touchdowns, though. Of Carolina’s 23 fourth-quarter first downs the last three games (20 not counting penalties), Bernard has eight. Carolina has 39 fourth-quarter points and Bernard has 18. His teammates have out-gained him in the fourth quarter, but barely: 229 yards (47 rushing, 182 passing) to 214 yards (184 rushing, 30 receiving). The Tar Heels have converted just 4-of-13 third downs in the fourth quarter in the last three games. Bernard is 2-of-2; his teammates combined 2-of-9.
In Carolina’s two close wins (by five or fewer points) at Miami and at home against NC State, Bernard has played in both and ran for 155 yards on 13 fourth-quarter attempts and gained seven of Carolina’s 14 fourth-quarter first downs. The lone exception? The Duke game, where Bernard actually had just eight touches in the fourth quarter out of 25 plays and just one first down. (He did have two of Carolina’s three fourth-quarter touchdowns.)
Bernard has been great in the second half in general, too. He has 15 of Carolina’s 34 second-half first downs in the last three games and is 4-of-6 on 3rd down (the rest of the team combined is 1-of-12). He has averaged 7.3 yards per carry in the second half (37 attempts for 269 yards) and is averaging 89.7 rushing yards and 139 all-purpose yards PER SECOND HALF in the last three games.
Bernard had 223 all-purpose yards in the second half against NC State and scored the walk-off touchdown, as it were. Even against a Duke team that focused on stopping him (and did a great job of it), Bernard managed 83 second-half yards and four first downs, converting 2-of-3 third downs (his teammates converted just 3-of-8). He scored the last touchdown for the Tar Heels. Carolina couldn’t move the ball against Miami in the second half; Bernard did with 109 yards on 14 touches (his teammates had 72 yards on 15 touches). And he had both of Carolina’s third-down conversions. Oh, and Carolina’s last touchdown (in the second quarter).
Candidates being mentioned ahead of (or in the same breath as) Bernard in the ACC Player of the Year race include Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd and Florida State quarterback EJ Manuel. Not to besmirch either, who have had great seasons, but an argument could be made that NC State’s Mike Glennon has been more clutch than either of them, just without the results. (Though Glennon did beat Manuel head-to-head.) And like Bernard in rushing, Glennon leads the league in passing.
But the award isn’t decided on who the most clutch player is, or even who has the best numbers - it’s generally the best player on the best team, unless there’s an overwhelming case to be made for someone else. This will be the year to test that theory. Bernard leads the league in rushing by 38.7 yards per game and in all-purpose yards by 44.8 yards. He also leads the league in scoring by 1.5 points per game (12.9 to 11.4 from FSU kicker Dustin Hopkins).
Oh, he’s also ninth in receptions per game (4.6), including scoring more (or as many) receiving touchdowns as four of the others in the top ten in that category. In seven games, Bernard has the same (or more) total touchdowns as six other ACC quarterbacks in the top ten of passing yardage have passing touchdowns. He has one fewer touchdown then Manuel has passing TDs (16, in nine games) and just five fewer than Boyd’s total of passing TDs (20, in eight games).
If Carolina fans want Bernard to win this award - and he does have a great chance at it - they need to come to Kenan Stadium and root the Tar Heels on as they try to win out, which would give Bernard has best chance. And there’s no guarantee Bernard will even be around after this year. There’s no way you want to miss watching arguably Carolina’s most special player of the last 50 years.
For the second consecutive week, Carolina will be renewing an in-state rivalry that has traditionally produced some strange games. And the last five years (all against NC State head coach Tom O’Brien, who could tie the best record of any State coach in history against the Tar Heels) have not disappointed.
Carolina has lost three of the games by a total of nine points. Carolina out-gained NC State by more than 100 yards in two of those games (the lone exception was a four-point loss in Raleigh in 2007 when NC State gained 93 more yards). In the 2009 and 2010 losses, Carolina lost by a total of five points despite out-gaining NC State 885 yards to 610.
So when the stats look so weird, there’s obviously a reason. And for the Tar Heels, a big problem has been their inability to run the ball. Carolina has averaged just 44.6 yards (1.7 per rush) against NC State. In the last two games, it’s been even worse (-2.0 yards per game).
NC State has not put up earth-shattering numbers running the ball, but the Wolfpack has generally been able to run it when they needed to, late in those close games especially. Last year, NC State had 126 yards rushing, its most since the 2008 meeting.
NC State has out-rushed Carolina in all but one game, but even then, their lowest total was 76 yards (the 2009 game when Carolina actually out-gained the Wolfpack by 146 yards and lost). In total, Carolina has averaged 5.2 yards per play against State in the O’Brien era compared to 4.9 for State.
Carolina has also struggled on third down against NC State, converting just 14-of-64 (21.9%) to 32-of-80 (40%) for NC State. Carolina’s 4-of-14 performance last year (28.6%) was actually its best in the series: the Tar Heels have been reliably right around 20% or below. NC State has fluctuated more; after converting 16-of-34 the first two games (nearly 50%), it has dropped down to 16-of-46 (34.8%) the last three years.
And when Carolina has been able to move the ball, it often hasn’t capitalized on chances in the red zone. If it has reached the red zone at all. The Tar Heels are 9-of-12 in the red zone against State since ’07 with just two touchdowns. In 2009-10, Carolina reached the red zone eight times and scored just six times, but just one of those scores was a touchdown. NC State, meanwhile, has reached the red zone against Carolina 21 times and scored 14 touchdowns. Last year’s performance - 3-of-4 with just one touchdown - made that touchdown percentage worse.
The Tar Heels have also struggled with turnovers, committing 14 over the last five games to just four by NC State. The Wolfpack has yet to lose a fumble in the last five years against Carolina, and have gone two full games (2008 and 2009) without committing a turnover. Two of their four turnovers came in the 2007 game.
Carolina did have six of its 14 turnovers in the error-riddled 2008 game in Chapel Hill, but the Tar Heels are still losing the turnover battle 6-2 over the last three games since. In Carolina’s two biggest losses in that span - 2008 and 2011 (31 and 13 points) - the Tar Heels lost the turnover battle 9-1.
But somehow, those turnovers haven’t cost them. NC State has turned Carolina’s 14 turnovers into just 30 points, including just three points in the last three years off of six Carolina turnovers. The Tar Heels have 17 points off of four NC State turnovers, but 14 of those points were in one game (2007).
Where it has hurt them - as have their struggles running the ball and on third down - is in time of possession. Carolina has trailed in that stat every year for the last five years by an average of nearly eight minutes per game. NC State has had the ball as long as 16 minutes more (in the 2008 game) than the Tar Heels. The shortest deficit Carolina faced was in 2010 (just 2 1/2 minutes). It shows as the game goes on: Carolina has only been outscored 64-54 in the first half by NC State. But in the second half, that advantage grows to 74-39.
Carolina has the best running back it has had in quite some time in Giovani Bernard, but as Saturday showed, he can’t do it alone. The Tar Heels will have to have a balanced offense and play relatively mistake-free football to beat yet another determined rival that will certainly be playing some of its best football.
The #GamedayForWallaceWade Twitter movement (which was somewhat tongue-in-cheek) for this week’s Carolina-Duke game sadly ended when Duke saw a 20-0 lead evaporate quickly at Virginia Tech and turn into a 41-20 loss. North Carolina’s 18-14 win at Miami was big for the Tar Heels, but hardly made the ESPN executives salivate at the thought of Lee Corso and company making a trip to Tobacco Road for College GameDay.
But what the ESPN executives don’t know is that regardless of how good or bad Carolina and Duke have been, in recent years, the games have been close. The Blue Devils have not lost by more than 16 points in the last five meetings.
From 1990-2001, Carolina won 12 games by an average of 21.4 points, including five wins by 33.8 points from 1997-01. But from 2002-09, Carolina’s average margin of victory has been just 6.9 points (which includes an eight-point loss to Duke at home in 2003). From 2005-08, Carolina’s four wins came by an average of just 4.5 points.
Duke head coach David Cutcliffe has made the Blue Devils more competitive, and it shows in their results against the Tar Heels. Carolina went to bowl games from 2008-11 and in that span, Carolina’s four wins over Duke came by an average of 10.5 points (from 2008-10, it was just 8.7 points). Carolina has won the last two times at Wallace Wade by a combined 13 points. And a Duke quarterback has had the ball with a chance to win in both games.
The 2007 game is worth a mention: a 28-20 overtime Carolina win in which Carolina was outdone in nearly every statistical category except the final score: the Blue Devils even held the ball for nearly 13 more minutes than the Tar Heels. It was three missed field goals that helped do in Duke.
But from 2008-11, Carolina’s four wins have revealed some interesting trends. (Obligatory caveat: none of these trends are likely as relevant as they have been, since the game was always the last game of the year in the past when injuries had taken a toll on the thin Blue Devils and Duke is much better this year than they have been in recent years.)
-Carolina has averaged 203.3 rushing yards and Duke has averaged 35.5. Duke’s rushing total of 142 yards in that four-game span does not equal Carolina’s lowest rushing total (179 yards in 2008). As you might think, Duke has more passing yards (234.8 per game) than Carolina (223.5 per game) but Duke has averaged nearly 12 more passing attempts. Carolina QBs also have seven touchdowns to three picks compared to five touchdowns and seven interceptions by Duke quarterbacks.
-Despite having a number of future NFL stars, Cutcliffe’s system has ensured his quarterbacks won’t get sacked much: despite UNC having a number of future NFL defensive players, it has registered just nine sacks in the last four games. Of course, Carolina’s system this year has cut way down on sacks as well, and so Duke notching eight sacks in the same span likely won’t matter.
-The Carolina defense has done its job in many areas that matter, though: Duke has averaged 14 first downs and 270.3 yards per game compared to 22.8 first downs by Carolina and 426.8 yards per game. Duke has converted just 19-of-55 third downs in that span (34.5%) while Carolina has converted 40-of-68 (58.8%).
-A stat Carolina fans won’t like based on the 2012 Tar Heels’ recent propensity for penalties? Carolina has averaged eight penalties for 74.5 yards in the last four years and 10 for 89.7 in the last three years.
-Perhaps the most staggering statistic of them all is that Carolina has held an enormous time of possession advantage of 13 or more minutes in the last three meetings. In total, Carolina has held the ball for the length of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I (146 minutes and 31 seconds). Duke has held the ball for the length of a casual comedy, like Adam Sandler’s classic “Big Daddy”. (Hey, it looks like a classic next to the movies Sandler has made since.)