The Panthers went 6-7, that seventh defeat coming in their first bowl game. The team won its final four regular season games to earn that bowl berth.
I’ll continue to review each position group and preview what that unit may look like when spring practice begins sometime in March.
Starters: There were different combinations because of injuries or ineffectiveness.
Among those who made several starts were Michael Ivory, Alex Stoehr, Gabe Mobley, Taylor Evans and Sebastian Willer.
Returning: Ivory, Stoehr, Mobley and Willer. Key back-ups returning are Akil Hawkins, Davis Moore, Tyler Simonsen, Dom Roldan and Lucas Johnson.
What’d they do? A very mixed bag for this group.
Before I start, I will point out that running games and passing games interconnected. An above average running back can make an average offensive look good. An above average offensive line can make an average running back better. A great quarterback can make a below average offensive line look above average. A great offensive line can make a below average quarter look average.
You get the idea.
This season, the Panthers averaged 3.1 yards per carry for 96.9 yards per game. They were almost the exact same averages as the 2014 season (3.0 ypc and 96.3 ypg).
So, the stats are a wash … kind of.
The biggest difference may be that when the Panthers were trying to protect leads during the four-game winning streak in season’s second half, the line was able to open enough holes for the backs to pick up yards and burn clock.
So, in those situations the line played well. But there were also several situations, particularly late in the season, when the line couldn’t generate enough push for the running back to gain one yard.
Now, turning to the passing game.
The passing game averaged 335.9 yards per game and allowed 33 sacks in a minimum of 496 drop backs.
The passing game in 2014 averaged 279 yards per game and the line allowed 31 sacks in a minimum of 446 drop backs.
The ratio of sacks-to-drop backs is almost exactly the same in both seasons.
Does that mean it’s a wash?
No. Obviously not.
The passing game was one off the best in FBS and those who helped it deserve credit.
But there is much work to do. The next quarterback likely won’t be as good as Nick Arbuckle at reading defenses, putting players into the right position, and making the right choice on throws. That means the line is going to have to play that much better to give the new signal-caller as good a chance as possible.
Who will battle in the spring? The starters will likely be a battle between Willer and Ivory at left tackle, Stoehr at guard, Mobley at center, competition between Hawkins and Moore at guard and Lucas Johnson will compete with Willer for the other tackle.
Outlook: Because the group finished the season mostly healthy, unlike last year, each player can devote themselves to the offseason strength and conditioning program in the new building.
That can make a huge difference next season for blocking for running and passing plays.