I have to admit that I used to watch Grey’s Anatomy religiously with my wife. Why, you may ask? Well, it wasn’t because of “McDreamy”, although seeing him always reminded me of his funny role in the movie, “Can’t Buy Me Love.” Such an under-appreciated classic. Anyway, the main reason I watched was actually for the medical stories in the show. I was always fascinated by the challenges they faced as surgeons, and how sometimes there really wasn’t an explanation for why things went wrong in surgery, or even why bad prognoses ended up with positive outcomes.
No explanation why they saw some things they’ve never seen before.
Well, I think that’s a perfect way to look at the plague of injuries that has hit the Tar Heel football team this season in Chapel Hill. All of these famous television shows like to have different versions of the original show take place in different cities. Grey’s Anatomy is based in Seattle. Five games into the 2017 season, I think it’s safe to say we have the makings of a new series called, “Grey’s Anatomy: Chapel Hill.”
Head coach Larry Fedora had this to say about the injury situation after this week’s game against Georgia Tech, “I’m not going to use that as an excuse. We are coaching up guys, coaching 11 guys to go out there and do their job. That’s our job.”
Now, most coaches will echo Coach Fedora when it comes to commenting on injuries and not allowing them to be an excuse for a loss. However, not many coaches, if any at all, have ever experienced the enormous loss of players that Coach Fedora has endured five games into this season.
After this week’s game in Atlanta, Yellow Jacket Coach Paul Johnson mentioned in an on-field postgame interview that, “They(UNC) were missing a lot of guys,” when asked about his team’s win.
The week before, Duke Coach David Cutcliffe told me on the field afterwards that, “It’s unbelievable the amount of adversity they [UNC] have faced with injuries and yet, this was an incredibly competitive, hard-fought game.”
After hearing that from two of Coach Fedora’s counterparts in the ACC, I decided to see how UNC’s injury situation compared to its peers in the ACC and with other Power-5 teams.
Here’s what the statistics showed heading into this past weekend’s slate of games.
There are 65 teams considered to be “Power-5” teams. There were a combined 113 players that were listed as “out for the season” due to injury amongst those 65 teams. That would give you an average of about 1.7 players per team that are out for the season. How about at UNC? Well, they currently have 15 players listed as “out for the season,” or about nine times more than the national average. That also means that 13% of the players on Power-5 teams that are out for the season due to injury are Tar Heels.
When you look at UNC’s peers in the ACC the numbers are even more staggering. The other thirteen teams in the ACC have a combined 23 players out for the season. Again, UNC has 15 by itself. Their Coastal division foes have a combined six players out for the season. That contrast in numbers is hard to wrap your head around. This amount of bad luck is something you just can’t explain.
For UNC, many knew this would be a rebuilding year since it had to replace more than 90% of their offensive production. Gone were the three wide receivers, both running backs and the star quarterback, who was the first quarterback taken in the NFL Draft. Clearly not an easy task for any team outside of the Alabama’s and Clemson’s of the world.
So, how do these injuries affect the team’s performance and their ability to rebuild? Well, look at ACC peer, Florida State. The Seminoles have three guys out for the season, one of which is quarterback Deondre Francois. Some picked them to be in the mix for the national championship. Now they’re 1-2 and were very close to being 0-3 after a tough game in Winston-Salem against Wake Forest.
Now, some of those players injured at other schools aren’t even starters. At UNC, those injury numbers include losing ten starters, with more starters missing games from week to week. That includes the leader on the offense in Austin Proehl, as well as the leader on defense, Andre Smith. Proehl accounted for roughly half of the receptions made last year by the guys returning this season. Smith was 6th in the ACC in tackles last season. Both were huge losses in production but were also huge losses in leadership on the field.
When you’re breaking in a redshirt freshman quarterback how can you create any continuity when you’ve lost the three wide receivers you expected to replace the three stars that departed for the NFL? How can you create a new running game with new backs behind an offensive line that’s down three starters from the start of fall camp, with the two other starters playing with injuries. In some cases, the backups are gone for the season too. It’s tough to rebuild when the players you expected to rebuild with aren’t on the field.
Again, Coach Fedora said he won’t make excuses and most that know him wouldn’t expect him to say otherwise. He also said, “Nobody feels sorry for you…You got to find a way to get it done.”
That may be true. However, this season’s injury count for the Tar Heels is like one of those episodes of Grey’s Anatomy when the surgeons are left looking at each other, unable to explain what they just saw.
“Grey’s Anatomy: Chapel Hill” isn’t a fictional television show. It’s the reality facing the UNC football team and its fans in the 2017 season.