the first time in 58 years, the Hokie nation prepares to invade Chapel Hill,
North Carolina for a football clash with the Tar Heels. Hokie fans have been
looking forward to this one since the schedule was announced, snatching up
tickets from any and every avenue. These teams last played seven years ago in a
Gator Bowl turned ugly for the Orange & Maroon, so Hokies everywhere have a
score to settle with the Baby Blues.
Until a week ago, this game didnít look to be
competitive to most people, including Tar Heel fans. Suddenly, everything
changed last Saturday night when UNC surprised third ranked Miami. The Tar Heels
physically dominated the Hurricanes on both sides of the ball, running up over
500 yards of offense while frustrating Brock Berlin and the potent Canes attack.
Miami left Chapel Hill stunned and out of the national championship picture.
Obviously, UNC is riding an emotional high heading into
this game with the Hokies. To counter that emotion, it will be critical for the
Hokies to get off to a good start. One way to do that is to get a big play on
the first kick return. UNC has struggled in that area this year, so the Hokies
may get an opportunity for a big play right away (assuming Tech receives the
opening kickoff). UNC refused to kick to Miamiís Devin Hester and that
strategy paid off. It will be interesting to see if they choose to kick to Eddie
Royal or Mike Imoh.
Now, letís consider some of the important factors on
offense and defense that will be key to a Tech victoryÖ.
When Tech is on Defense
On paper, this will be the best offense Tech has faced
since the USC game. UNC has all the ingredients to be dominant on the offensive
side of the ball Ė physical OL, experienced QB, power to run inside the
tackles, and the speed to pressure the edges. In games against four of the
better defenses in the ACC (NCSU, FSU, GT, UVa), the Tar Heels averaged almost
400 yards of total offense. They followed up last week with a 545 yard outburst
All the stats suggest that this is a very explosive
offense when they play well. Unfortunately for them, playing well has been an
issue in many of their games. Moving the ball up and down the field hasnít
been a problem, but consistency, decision making, and turnovers have been.
The Tech defense has been stout all season, but they will
likely get pressed in this game. UNC has an excellent running game, but they
also have an experienced, mobile QB that is very accurate in the passing game.
That balance will be tough to contain, but look for the Hokies to rely on an old
formula of physical, aggressive defense to force UNC into mental mistakes and
Key #1: Gap Control vs. the Run
UNC has a stable of talented backs, but the key to the
running game is their offensive line. Last Saturday night, UNCís offensive
line physically whipped Miamiís defensive front throughout the game. Linemen
were releasing cleanly into Miamiís LBs and pushing them ten yards down field
with ease. The best player up front is center Jason Brown. He can be a
dominating blocker in the run game and UNC uses him in variety of ways. He is a
powerful at the point of attack, but he is also has the quickness to pull and
UNC will run from a full suite of formations, from under
center or from the shotgun. Leading rusher Jacque Lewis is expected back from
injury and he will team up with Chad Scott to form a solid 1-2 punch at
tailback. UNC will also use bruising fullback Madison Hedgecock as a tailback
when they are looking to get tough yards.
Expect the Tech defense to attack the line of scrimmage,
securing gaps with both inside linebackers and bringing run blitzes off the
edge. Penetration by the defensive tackles against the strength of UNCís
offensive line will be critical in controlling UNCís run game. The defensive
ends will need to be aggressive in their backside pursuit. From the Georgia Tech
game film, expect UNC to run some naked bootlegs with Durant to take advantage
of the aggressive DE play. Durant isnít as fast as Reggie Ball, so I would
look for the Tech DEís to play pursuit from the wide side of the field and
containment on the boundary. Accounting for the QB with a DE may be a risky
move, but expect to see that early as the Hokies look to keep their linebackers
focused on the tailbacks and the interior run game. As needed, they will adjust
by crashing the boundary side DE down the line while using Xavier Adibi as a spy
Look for Tech to adjust to an 8-man front when UNC shows
the I-formation with a fullback leading. The Rover (Griffin/Daniels) has to be
strong in run support against the cutbacks. This aggressive approach against the
run will give Durant some opportunities in the passing game, so it will be key
for Techís corners and safeties to stay disciplined in coverage and not get
caught with play action.
Key #2: Pressure Durant; Force Him Left
Durant is a poised pocket passer that is very accurate to
all areas of the field. Like most QBís at this level, he will make mistakes
under pressure. Tech will blitz on occasion, but they cannot rely on blitzing to
get to Durant. The defensive line will have to get enough pressure to allow the
secondary to mix coverages down the field. Offensive coordinator Gary Tranquill
knows the Tech defense as well as any coach in the country, so he will have his
protections set up to address the many pressure looks of the Hokies. The matchup
of Tranquill versus Bud Foster can be best measured by the pressure the Hokies
get on Durant throughout the game. The Hokies will need to get consistent
pressure, not only to get sacks, but to force Durant into mistakes and
Durant is mobile enough to scramble away from pressure to
either side, but he is much more dangerous scrambling to his right. He keeps his
head up and is very accurate throwing on the run to that side. The Tech
linebackers will have to stay disciplined in coverage and not commit to come up
on Durant too soon. This is where the speed of Adibi is such a matchup advantage
for the Hokies. He can stay back that extra split second before committing and
then use his closing speed to chase the play down. Anderson or Rouse on the
other side donít have the same type of football speed as Adibi, but both have
played their responsibilities well this year in similar situations.
Key #3: Defend the Tendencies
UNC runs from every formation and they have balance to all
areas of the field, but like most teams, they have tendencies that can be keyed
by the defense. Versus Miami, their run tendency from the tailback position was
to the left, particularly from the ďIĒ and 2-TE formations.
Miamiís defense is a standard 4-3 with classic strong
and weakside alignment where Techís defense is a one-off 4-3 base with field
and boundary alignment. Basically, that means Tech will generally move their
corners and Whip LB from side to side based on the position of the ball relative
to the hash marks. The Hokies will defend UNCís tendency to run left
differently based on the position of the ball. With ball position boundary left,
look for the Hokies to bring the Rover up into an 8-man front when UNC
formations with a fullback or 2-TE. With ball position wide side left, look for
the Hokies to align the Whip LB strong at the line of scrimmage.
Run tendency left doesnít mean that UNC doesnít run
their tailbacks to the right. To keep the defense honest, they will run the
tailbacks right 1/3 of the time (and more from shotgun or 3-WR formations). They
especially like to run Durant to the right on bootlegs or QB draws. So, while
Tech will align strong against the tendency left with a priority on pursuit,
look for the defense to align more straight-up to the right side of the
offensive formation with a priority on containment and force inside back to the
UNC will counter with misdirection, including option or WR
reverse action plays. Techís speed on defense is the key factor here. Bud
Foster has faced the Gary Tranquill offenses on several occasions in the past,
so look for the misdirection to be defended well by the Hokies.
Key #4: Disguise and Mix Coverages
Against Miami, UNC had as much success passing the ball as
they did running it. Miami is a heavy man-to-man coverage defense, with very few
adjustments or disguises in their looks. UNCís wide receivers, tight ends, and
running backs all made big plays in the passing game.
Techís defense is far more multiple, with a variety of
man, zone and nickel coverages. To the surprise of many, Tech has played a lot
of zone this year and they have done so very effectively.
Against UNC, look for Techís zone coverages to take away
the crossing patterns in the middle of the field and to provide help over the
top against the TEís running down the seams.
Given his experience, Darian Durant shouldnít have
problems reading the coverages, particularly with eight games of film to study.
The short outside passes will be the best available options. It will get more
difficult for Tech if UNC is having success running the ball and the Hokies have
to adjust by bringing the corners and/or safeties up in run support. This will
open up UNCís play action game against man coverage, which is a good matchup
for UNC given their talent at receiver and the accuracy of their QB.
Key #5: Play Physical against the Receivers
The ability of receivers to block is an often overlooked
aspect of a successful running game. As a group, UNCís receivers are not
overly physical. Smallish receiver Jawarski Pollock will often line up in the
slot as the third receiver. Most defenses will drop a safety down over the slot
against that type of formation, but Tech usually puts the Whip LB over the slot
receiver. That is a good matchup for Techís run defense, especially in this
game with the matchup of James Anderson against Pollock. UNC will look to pull a
lineman or get a TE out on Anderson, which should open up things for Techís
defensive line and inside linebackers to get good penetration and backside
A few teams have had success going deep against Techís
corners, so expect UNC to take some shots down the sideline against both Jimmy
Williams and Eric Green. Durant has decent arm strength, and like all of his
passes, he is accurate with the deep ball. Durant will put the ball where it
needs to be, so Green and Williams need to be physical with the receivers and
play good technique on the ball. Tech will try to bait some of the deeper passes
by showing press man or 2-deep coverage, only to drop into a 3-deep coverage at
Look for Tech to continue to play a lot of nickel on
obvious passing downs, replacing the Whip LB with a third corner (Roland Minor).
UNC will be tempted to run at that defensive set, but the three and four WR
personnel groups will limit their ability to get a physical mismatch against the
When Tech is on Offense
The Hokies offense found some things last week against
Georgia Tech. It remains to be seen if that game was an anomaly or a
breakthrough for a unit that has been searching for consistency. Their first
chance to build on that game comes against one of the worst defenses in the ACC.
For most of the season, UNCís defense has struggled against the run and the
pass, although they showed signs of great improvement against the Miami
Tech will be able to move the ball against this defense if
they can avoid mistakes, especially penalties. Having a run/pass option in all
down/distance situations will be very tough for the UNC defense to handle. I donít
look for the Hokies offense to do anything fancy in this game. They will look to
control the ball, control the clock, and wear down the UNC defense by playing
Key #1: Win the Line of Scrimmage
Without a doubt, the top priority for the offense this
week is to be physical up front and dominate the trenches. UNCís defensive
front isnít as physical as some and the depth has been depleted a bit by
injuries and suspensions.
Techís offensive line has been challenged in practice
this week to go out and win the physical battles up front. Look for big games
from Jimmy Martin, Jon Dunn and Will Montgomery. Also look for both Jeff King
and Jared Mazzetta to bounce back strong from disappointing performances against
Key #2: Rush for More Yards than UNC
This game marks the return of Techís RB coach Billy Hite
to Chapel Hill. Coach Hite has had this game circled since UNC was added to the
football schedule several years ago. Itís safe to assume that he will have his
running backs super energized for this one.
Look for Tech to go right at the UNC defense with the
power run game. We will see a lot of the 2-TE formations, but also look for more
of the fullback formations as well. Look for a lot of runs between the tackles
as Techís offensive line works to dominate the line of scrimmage. Expect to
see all of Techís tailbacks, with the bulk of the carries going to Mike Imoh
and Cedric Humes.
If the Hokies are successful running the ball, they should
win this game rather easily. If UNCís defense is able to control Techís run
game, then it will get dicey for the Hokies. Limiting UNCís possessions on
offense is a top priority and that is best accomplished by Techís offense
controlling the clock with the running game. It wonít look fancy and it might
not make a lot of highlight reels, but successful execution of that game plan
will put a big smile on the face of Techís running back coach.
Key #3: Run Randall Early
To complement the inside running game, look for Bryan
Randall to run a few option keepers from under center and QB draws from shotgun
formations early to keep UNC from pinching their defense against the inside runs
by the tailbacks. Randallís quickness and ability to run will get the most
attention from Tommy Richardson, the one starting UNC LB with enough athletic
ability to account for Randall. To the other side, UNC will be forced to play
containment against Randall with a LB or DE in combination with a defensive
back. Running Randall early will force UNC to adjust on both sides of the
formation, opening up other opportunities for the rest of Techís offense.
With Randall getting the attention of both outside LBís,
look for Tech to put pressure on MLB Doug Justice with the fullback or tight
end. From the I-formation, look for an early play action pass to the fullback in
man coverage against Justice. Justice had a big game against Miami, but his
limited quickness can be exploited if he is isolated in the run game and then
stretched by play action.
Key #4: Exploit the Safeties
UNC plays a lot of standard 4-3, with Cover-2 looks in the
secondary. Starting safeties Gerald Sensabaugh and Kareen Taylor are solid, but
neither is particularly fast. Look for the Hokies to take shots down the
sideline over the top of the corners to see if the safeties can get over quickly
enough. If both safeties have to shade to the outside receivers, look for the
Hokies to go to King or Mazzetta running down the seam against a linebacker.
Knowing Tech is going to try to run the ball, UNC may go
against their tendencies and bring a safety up in the box early in the game. UNC
may believe that their best matchup is to get an extra player in the box and man
up outside against Techís wide receivers. Keep an eye on #14 and #27 in blue
to see where they line up when Randall is under center. If one continuously
moves up toward the line of scrimmage, then UNCís game plan is to sell out
against the run and take their chances outside against Randall and Techís
young wide receivers.
Key #5: Attack the Corners
Should UNC bring a safety up in run support, look for Tech
to play action and go right at the corners to see if they can handle Eddie
Royal, Josh Hyman and David Clowney in single coverage. That is a good matchup
for the Hokies as long as Randall and the receivers are on the same page and
they execute the pitch and catch.
Even if the safeties stay back, the Hokies should still
get single coverage against a receiver on one side of the formation. From film
review, UNC will probably conclude that they cannot cover the Tech TEís down
the seam with their linebackers, so they will want to keep a safety inside to
bracket the TE over the top. This will leave single coverage on one side against
a Tech wide receiver. Depending on the matchup, look for Tech to run the tight
end down the seam to occupy the safety and then go outside to the wide receiver
one-on-one against the UNC corner.
The keys to this game for Tech are pretty straightforward.
On offense, dig in, win the trenches, and run the ball. Force UNC to over commit
to the run and then attack their corners and safeties in man coverage. On
defense, get penetration against UNCís physical offensive line, contain their
running game, and force Durant out of the pocket to his left.
The challenges are much tougher for the Tech defense in
this game, so the offense will need to put some points up. Touchdowns are
needed, so red zone execution will have to be improved over the Georgia Tech
Iíll be back early next week with the follow-up.