Saturday illustrated just how valuable a fast pace can be.
I timed the Tar Heels’ hurry-up offense all afternoon Saturday at Carter-Finely Stadium, and the data backed up the philosophy behind the offense. Four of the Tar Heels’ five fastest drives (in terms of snap time) ended in touchdowns Saturday, which accounted for all of their scoring in a 27-19 win against N.C. State.
Three seconds must pass for the defense to counter if offensive substitutions are made, and the snap cannot come until the officials start the play clock after spotting the ball. I was most concerned about the spot-to-snap time Saturday, and the Tar Heels had two clear tipping points: Four seconds for plays and a 10-second average for drives.
All four touchdown drives averaged 10 seconds or less from spot to snap.
“It’s not a coincidence,” running back A.J Blue said. “If we move like that every drive, a touchdown possibly could come out of that drive. We’re still learning. We’re still working. Sometimes, we get a little behind ourselves, and we kind of lose focus on really what the value of the fast-paced offense does for us.”
After putting in No. 2 quarterback Marquise Williams for the third series of the game, North Carolina’s offense received a jolt in terms of speed.
After a completion on first down, the Tar Heels snapped the ball in 3.4 seconds, and the following play was a 13-yard run.
The following play was snapped in 4.8 seconds, and Williams hit Bug Howard for a 25-yard gain.
The snap after was completed in 4.7 seconds. It led to a nine-yard completion.
The following snap was nine seconds after the spot, and it led to a five-yard run and a first down.
In a blink, UNC had more than 50 yards. The Wolfpack defense scrambled as North Carolina eventually cut the lead to 10-7 on the drive.
“Once we start moving the chains a little bit, you can get your tempo going a little bit,” North Carolina coach Larry Fedora said. “... When (Williams) went in, we started moving the chains. So, you saw the offense start kicking in.”
The problem, of course, is that North Carolina’s biggest advantage can be nullified easily.
Incompletions, injuries and penalties sabotage North Carolina more than the average team, which is bad news considering the Tar Heels are the second-most penalized team in the ACC. North Carolina was penalized eight times for 80 yards Saturday.
Fedora said North Carolina has “a long ways to go,” and the first two drives – when North Carolina threw a pick and had a big fumble for a loss on a first-down play – handicapped the speed.
The other big takeaway: Williams’ snaps were, on average, faster than starter Bryn Renner’s. This offense is a better fit for Williams, to be sure, and he’s giving Tar Heels fans high hopes for next season.
Regardless of who is running the attack, North Carolina’s offense has one constant: If it’s not moving fast, it’s next to useless.
For this system to be effective, it seems, North Carolina has to follow the Law of 10 Seconds.