CHAPEL HILL — North Carolina coach Larry Fedora said the Tar Heels are still in search of an offensive identity following a 1-5 start fueled by inexperience and injuries.
“We’re still trying to discover who we are,” Fedora said Wednesday during the ACC’s weekly teleconference.
“I think defensively, we’ve identified who we are. I think our guys understand that. I think offensively we’re still struggling to find that identity. We’re trying to get some continuity going and still trying to just discover who we are.
“I think it is difficult, especially at this point in the season to still be doing that, but it is what it is and it’s where we’re at right now.
The Tar Heels (1-5, 0-3 ACC) welcome Virginia (4-1, 1-0) to Chapel Hill on Saturday for a 3:30 p.m. start, aiming to make a run toward bowl eligibility with six games remaining in the season.
But unlike the 2013 edition of the Tar Heels, who rallied to win five of their last six games to secure a bowl bid, the 2017 roster has been decimated by injuries and inexperience in key positions.
UNC will also have a tougher stretch of games to close this season with trips to Virginia Tech and N.C. State left on the schedule and a home game with Miami.
The offense, led by redshirt freshman quarterback Chazz Surratt, ranks tied for 89th nationally in scoring offense at 25.3 points per contest, 89th in total offense with 373.5 yards per game and 121st out of 129 bowl subdivision programs in third-down conversion rate at 29.8 percent.
Over the past two seasons, the Tar Heels had averaged 36.5 points and 463 yards while converting 47 percent of their third downs.
While UNC continues to struggle putting up points, with just one touchdown each in its past two games, Fedora said Monday he plans to become more involved in play-calling duties.
Despite recent results, Fedora said he’s starting to see improvements throughout the team.
“I do see areas of improvement, yes,” he said. “I think the defense has gotten better each and every week. I think that they’re playing now with some confidence and feel good about what they’re doing.
“I think offensively, we’re still trying to find out who we are and what we’re able to do. We’ve got to really rely on the fundamentals and not keep shooting ourselves in the foot.”
And though the Tar Heels have lost 14 players to season-ending injuries, including eight starters, Fedora refuses to use that as an excuse for the poor play.
“I’m really not going to use injuries as an excuse for anything that we do,” he said. “We’re going to put 11 guys out there, and our job is to put those guys in a position where they can be successful and coach ‘em up and hopefully help them be successful.”
No. 20 N.C. State (5-1, 3-0 ACC) at Pittsburgh (2-4, 0-2 ACC)
The Wolfpack is off to its best start since Philip Rivers was the quarterback 15 years ago.
With wins over Florida State and Louisville, N.C. State heads to Pittsburgh as a 12-point favorite, hoping to avoid a letdown before its bye with games against Notre Dame and Clemson on the horizon.
Behind a potent offense led by quarterback Ryan Finley — who has thrown 288 passes without an interception for the second-longest streak in ACC history — the Wolfpack have scored a touchdown on their opening drive five times in six games. A fast start will be key against the Panthers.
N.C. State last played in Pittsburgh in 1987, a 34-0 victory. This is the first meeting for the teams as league opponents.
The Wolfpack hosts the Tigers on Nov. 4 with the ACC Atlantic clearly in play.
Florida State (1-3, 1-2 ACC) at Duke (4-2, 1-2 ACC)
After a 4-0 start, the Blue Devils have lost two straight games and are struggling offensively, particularly in the passing game.
In four wins to start the season, Duke completed nearly 63 percent of its throws and averaged 243 yards passing. The Blue Devils averaged just 145 yards passing with a 41.6 percent completion rate in losses the past two weeks to Miami and Virginia.
Quarterback Daniel Jones completed just 33 percent of his attempts against the Cavaliers for the second-worst mark of his college career. More emphasis on the running game behind Shaun Wilson and Brittain Brown will go a long way in helping Jones get back to form.
The Blue Devils are 0-19 all-time against Florida State, with their most recent loss coming in the 2013 ACC Championship.
East Carolina (1-5, 1-2 AAC) at No. 22 Central Florida (4-0, 2-0 AAC)
The Pirates continue to sink with each passing week and enter this week’s game against No. 22 Central Florida as 34-point underdogs.
ECU’s defense ranks ninth in the AAC in passing defense, allowing an average of 317.2 yards per game. It has surrendered 16 touchdowns while intercepting just two passes.
The lone bright spot has been dual-threat quarterback Thomas Sirk, who leads the team in rushing with 145 yards and two touchdowns. Sirk is also completing 57 percent of his passes, with seven TD passes and seven interceptions.
Rodd Baxley can be reached at 910-416-5182. Follow him on Twitter @RoddBaxley.