Finally got a little time to get around to this UNC post, if you didn't know folks the kid has been working like crazy. For starters, yes, I went to the game. Sat in 107-ish for a good little sideline view. Some nice ladies sat next to us and they asked me football questions and I was answering them. Got to sit with Jonathan Jones from Carolina Blue and Erin Summers from WRAL too. Here is an overview and the stats if you're interested in those type things.
The first take away from the game as they came out and got started was the size, or lack thereof. The team is noticeably smaller, especially on the lines. That's a product of two things; the strength and conditioning program design and the actual practices themselves. Fedora has changed from the NFL styled practices that UNC has had, well since forever, and gone with a similar practice scheme to what Meyer has implemented at Ohio State, what Chip Kelly uses at Oregon and the like. Less standing around for the back ups, more reps for everyone and a lot more conditioning done during the drills themselves.
Some folks like this, some don't. In principle, for me, I'm not a fan of it. I like the pro styled approach of heavy reps for the ones, less for the twos and so on; but to be fair both are great ways to practice when you can get the desired goal.
Outside of size, tempo is the big difference. No more plodding, methodical approach. They want to get the plays in and get the plays off with the plenty of time on the playclock. No more Bryn staring at the sideline waiting for the play to get signaled in as the substitutions trickle into the game and the Heels are fighting to get the ball snapped as the seconds tick away. On the surface, that's a great thing. No more delay of games or burned timeouts in the first quarter because the right personnel package couldn't get in the game.
The other side to this tempo game plan is when things don't work. A three and out that would have taken a couple of minutes in the pro scheme now is just a minute of game time. Short run play, 24 total seconds, incomplete pass for 7 seconds, sack for 14 more seconds and now you're kicking the ball to the opponent before your defense even had a chance to rest. It is an interesting state to exist in on the other side of the ball.
As for the actual scheme themselves; the offense was interesting. Renner was his side of the ball effectively and Marquise Williams was impressive. AJ Blue, Romar Morris and Gio Bernard all look comfortable in the scheme. Eric Ebron, as we've said before, can be a star in this offense. Offensive line play was good, not great. They are doing a lot more horizontally as a team which makes it a little tougher to get the tough yards up the middle when they need them.
In speaking to the horizontal scheme, it worked Saturday. They spread bodies out and got players open. They exhausted the vertical seams created through the formations and took advantage of them. When dealing with this scheme that's what the plan is and they executed accordingly.
Now, with respect to the defense, ugh. I don't like the 3-3-5/4-2-5 as a scheme. Like ever. It is essentially a fulltime nickel package and that sacrifices girth up front on a play by play basis. The positive is that it allows for pressure from different angles. For fans frustrated with the lack of blitzing that is a plus. However, defense, at the most basic level, should fit like a glove at the front. Four up front, three filling the gaps behind them or three up front with four filling those gaps behind them. When you tinker with that, you're screwing with play by play runfits and that means seams. Seams mean people get loose. It just doesn't do enough to maintain the structural integrity of the defense.
Another interesting, albeit expected, takeaway from the spring game was the redzone. 20 to 20 the offense cut through this defense like a knife. Exploiting the vertical seams, taking advantage of the personnel mismatches and clearing out zones to get bodies behind guys. Jheranie Boyd was wide open a lot of the day, as he took the top off the defense. The screen game worked well, the intermediate vertical routes were open. It really was all working to make the defense look bad.
Then, inside the redzone things reversed. The defense, with the gaps and seams in it, saw those close down as they approached the red area. When your drops aren't as deep in coverage and things are happening quicker the defense can turn the tables. Offensively, those holes that existed in the green zone were just not there and the team had a tough time figuring out who to throw it to and opening up true holes in the running game through the middle.
This will be a recurring thing for the Tar Heels on both sides of the football. The offense, when we get into the red area, will have to figure out a reliable way to get the ball into the endzone. The defense, in the green zone, will have to play sound football to get the stops you want to win the field position battle.
All in all it was a decent outing. If folks want to get excited about the offensive numbers, more power to them. Just remember those numbers and that showing came against the defense that Koenning-Disch are planning on trotting out there to stop opponents. Tempo is up, the guys are getting their minds right with respect to doing what Fedora expects out of them. Bryn looks good, a lot more comfortable in the shotgun and he seems healthier than a season ago, so he can move. Getting him to keep the ball on the read option will be a struggle but he's going to have to keep it a time or two to help keep teams honest. Williams is a hell of a ball player and while he was onlye 17 for 32 you can see the potential, the kid is about ready to play if he didn't have a capable Renner ahead of him.
Boyd has got to run. Fedora either has to find a way to get him running off the line with motions or just get through to him that he's got to run faster for the entire play because he can take the top off of a defense in a hurry. Ebron can play, he's a match up issue for most teams. Tre Boston looks comfortable at safety again, that's a move back to 2010 for him instead of 2011 where he was back and forth between safety and corner. He's a player, Butch knew he was a player, he's growing into his body and on the defensive side watching him should be a treat; even if it is him cleaning up some of the mess from in front of him.