CHAPEL HILL — The North Carolina football team scored a combined 144 points in its annual spring game Saturday afternoon.
That’s not a typo. 144 points. Blue team 74, White team 70.
But in this scenario, 144 points doesn’t mean that the Tar Heels, who went 11-3 last season, made 48 field goals or scored 18 touchdowns and six field goals.
Instead, coach Larry Fedora and his staff replaced the traditional scoring system for a more complicated one used in every practice, one borrowed from the Seattle Seahawks to give both offensive and defensive players a numerical measure of their success.
“Anytime the offense and the defense are going against each other, in any phase in practice, we use that scoring system to create competition,” Fedora said. “Just so they know what they’re doing. It’s not the score that you’re used to but that way, within the practice, your defense has the opportunity to see how they’re performing. It’s not just did we keep them from scoring touchdowns. It’s really not a difficult deal.”
Well actually, that depends on who you ask.
“It didn’t make sense to me,” said senior wide receiver Ryan Switzer, who had two catches for 10 yards Saturday. “I don’t know. I just go out there and run my route and do what’s asked of me. I didn’t pay too much attention to the score today but I know probably confused a lot of people out there, including me.”
The system relies on different point values assigned to different downs. On first and second down, if the offense gains more than four yards, they get a point. If the defense holds them to less than four yards on first or second down, they get a point. If it’s third-and-short and the offense converts, they get one point, but if the defense gets a stop, they get two. But on third-and-long, the offense gets two points for a conversion while the defense gets one for a stop. On third-and-mediums, only a point is up for grabs for either side.
The defense earns three points for creating a turnover while the offense earns three points for a touchdown. Special teams can’t earn any points, meaning that Nick Weiler’s 52-yard field goal Saturday afternoon didn’t put anything up on the scoreboard.
“I looked up at the beginning and was like, ‘ah this is going to confuse everybody,’” said quarterback Mitch Trubisky, who completed 13 of 22 passes for 148 yards, one touchdown and one interception. “That’s how we score practice too, so it was nothing new to us. It’s about being efficient on first and second and converting third downs. So it wasn’t confusing to us but I felt bad for the fans because they don’t know how it’s being scored.”
Because so many players, including six starters from last season’s Coastal Division Championship team, missed the spring game with injuries, the offense squared off against defense in front of a crowd around 5,000. With only one side of the ball typically scoring touchdowns, the traditional final score would’ve been a bit lopsided and not give a full picture of the team’s defensive success.
The offense led 41-34 at halftime, but the defense came roaring back in the second half and outscored their counterparts 36-33.
In the second spring under defensive coordinator coordinator Gene Chizik, UNC’s defensive unit showed more understanding of the complex schemes, grabbing four interceptions and making six sacks.
“Last year, we were much more vanilla,” senior cornerback Des Lawrence said. “We were only able to come out here with two calls last year. They just wanted to make sure we knew what we were doing. This year, we were able to put a lot of things in.
“I feel like this year everyone knows where the next man is going to be it allows them to play faster and also allows us not to think and when you’re not able to think and you’re just playing out there on god-given ability, you’re going to be able to make plays that you usually make.”
Sophomore safety Cameron Albright made two interceptions, including two on throws by sophomore quarterback Caleb Henderson.
Lawrence and linebacker Cole Holcomb led with nine and 10 tackles, respectively, while sophomore defensive end Malik Carney tallied two sacks. Lawrence made the play on Trubisky’s lone interception, adding three more points to his team’s tally.
For the defensive players, the point system is a motivational tool since the stakes, at least during practices, are pretty high.
“It’s a lot of trash-talking going on during practice because you get mad because some of the point system, you don’t like it,” Lawrence said. “It’s just some way they have to tally it. But when practice is over, the loser has to carry the winners’ pads. I think that’s a big thing for us that allows the competition to stay up.”
Offensively Saturday afternoon, UNC put together three touchdown drives, including two in the first half on an 18-yard pass from Trubisky to Mack Hollins and a 16-yard run by Khris Francis.
In the second half, sophomore running back Jacob Schmidt finished a 96-yard drive with a four-yard touchdown run, part of his big afternoon with 16-carry for 74 yards.
Putting up a lot of points is nothing new for UNC’s offense, but the practice system helps them break down the plays in a new way.
For junior running back T.J. Logan, who had 53 yards on 12 carries, it helps him understand the importance gaining any kind of yardage on each individual down, something that will come in handy with the season opens Sept. 3 against Georgia in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff game at the Georgia Dome.
“When I’m out there, if I can just get three or four yards, not even take it to the house, I can get some points for my team and help us win the game,” Logan said. “Every run isn’t going to break, so getting three, four hard yards, running into people, things like that, it helps us keep the drive going and make big plays.”