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En route to its five-win turnaround in 2019, North Carolina was able to buck several key trends that had developed as the program took a downturn during the 2017 and 2018 seasons when the Tar Heels went 5-18 overall and 2-14 in ACC play.

Here are the key factors that helped Carolina wrap up its first winning season since 2016, culminating with a Military Bowl victory over Temple.

Rushing Defense

The biggest change under defensive coordinator Jay Bateman was Carolina's ability to stop the run for the first time in a long time.

The Tar Heels weren't among the nation's elite run defenses, but as of now, they've jumped 61 spots in the rankings from 111th in 2018 to 50th this season. In the previous four seasons, Carolina finished with an average ranking of No. 113.7.


Big Plays

Where the Carolina offense struggled with consistency and its ability to gain short yardage in the red zone, it made up for with breaking big plays.

With 90 plays of 20 or more yards from scrimmage, the Tar Heels currently rank No. 8 nationally.

On plays of 40 or more yards, Carolina finished the season tied with Ohio State at 22.


Ball Security

Amid the Tar Heels' offensive struggles with inconsistency at quarterback and along the offensive line, they certainly didn't do themselves any favors with turnovers.

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Carolina flipped the script on that this season, currently ranking ninth nationally in total turnovers — a massive improvement from last season when it ranked 102nd.



For most of the past decade, defense has been the Achilles Heel for high-flying Carolina offenses.

That wasn't the case this season, and in fact, the defense was able to bail the Tar Heels out at times when the offense got stagnant early in the season.

In fact, Carolina's total defense average of 371.1 yards is its best mark since 2011 when it allowed 365.2 yards per game.


Touchdown Passes

The past two seasons were a sharp downturn for an offense that had no problem finding the end zone in the early years of Larry Fedora's tenure, as the Tar Heels threw a combined 35 touchdown passes in 2017 and 2018.

With Sam Howell throwing 38 touchdowns this season, Carolina beat that combined total and then put a cherry on top with Rontavius Groves' touchdown toss to Howell in the bowl game.

Carolina's 39 touchdown passes currently rank ninth nationally, one behind Clemson, which has played in one more game, and ahead of Oklahoma and USC.

In 2018, the Tar Heels ranked 106th in touchdown passes.