Go Figure: Third Quarter Insanity
In the second quarter of all three games against FBS teams, Carolina has been outscored 41-17. In the third quarter, they have outscored FBS opponents 31-0 and all opponents 52-0. The Tar Heels have allowed just one second-half touchdown this season (Wake Forest’s game-winner) and have outscored opponents 78-10 in the second half.
There’s no logical reason for this happening; even the obvious ones like halftime adjustments and an increased sense of urgency don’t completely explain it. But what does seem to explain at least part of it is that the offense and defense feeds off of the success of the other, at least to a degree.
Louisville was Exhibit A of how wrong things can go and how much ground both sides of the ball often have to make up in the second half. Carolina’s offense had to punt on its first drive of the game and Louisville proceeded to march 62 yards in five plays for an easy touchdown. The UNC offense threw an interception after that, and Louisville scored on the very next play. In a span of about three minutes of first-quarter action, Carolina found itself in a 12-0 hole.
Against Wake Forest, after Bryn Renner got hurt in the second quarter, the defense allowed Wake to tie the game on a 9-play, 83-yard drive. Carolina went three-and-out on its next possession (turning it over on third down), and Wake scored three plays later to take a 21-14 lead. That took just over five minutes of actual game time, and it seemed that everyone was affected by Renner’s injury.
But it took just eight minutes of third-quarter action for the Tar Heels to take a 27-21 lead. The defense forced a punt, the offense scored a touchdown to tie, the defense intercepted Tanner Price on the Wake Forest eight-yard line and Carolina kicked a field goal. The defense forced a punt again, and Carolina kicked a field goal. But in the fourth quarter, the offense went 10 plays, 30 yards and a little over three minutes off the clock on their next two drives combined, even after the defense kept getting Wake off the field (until that final drive).
Against East Carolina, though, both the offense and the defense persevered through some tough moments early on so when that third-quarter surge hit, they were both ready. The UNC offense went three-and-out on its first possession, but a Jabari Price sack back at the ECU 20-yard line fired up the team and Carolina scored on the next play. Just like that, the Tar Heels led 17-6. Kevin Reddick forced a fumble on a sack on ECU’s next possession, and the offense scored.
With 7:55 to go in the quarter, Carolina led 24-6. A little over four minutes of actual game action. And that was all because Carolina was patient, didn’t force the issue on either side of the ball and waited for its opportunity. The third quarter provided that, and the Tar Heels were ready.
It’s worth noting that in Carolina’s previous two games against FBS opponents, the Carolina defense forced a total of two turnovers. The Carolina offense, despite excellent field position after both, turned those into just three points (a field goal at Wake, and a turnover on downs at the end of the Louisville game).
Carolina’s defense, meanwhile, had allowed opponents to score three touchdowns off of four North Carolina turnovers. But the Tar Heels didn’t turn it over in a game for the first time this season against ECU, and Carolina finally scored a touchdown off of a turnover to reward the defense.