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Summer Scheming: UNC Tar Heels Football

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UNC finished 2019 7-6 but rode the hype train into the 2020 off-season.

South Carolina v North Carolina Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

“Mack is Back,” rang through the ACC upon Mack Browns hiring by the UNC Athletics Department. Mack Brown returned to Chapel Hill, where he was the head football coach from 1988-1997. Brown, a former Vanderbilt and Florida State running back, started his coaching career at FSU. After short stints around the country, Brown became the head coach at Appalachian State in 1983, then the Oklahoma OC in ‘84, before becoming the Tulane head coach from 1985-1987.

Following Tulane was Brown’s first tenure at UNC, then his most famous run as the Texas Longhorns head coach from 1998-2013. While head coach of the Longhorns, Brown won the 2005 BCS National Championship with Vince Young at quarterback in what is probably the second greatest national championship game ever played (after the 1984 Orange Bowl, of course).

NCAA Football - The Rose Bowl Game Presented by Citi - USC vs Texas Photo by Scott Clarke/WireImage

Brown’s Longhorns lost the BCS National Championship Game in 2009, and then fell to 5-7. That started the beginning of the end for Brown at Texas. 2013 was Brown’s final season as head coach of the Longhorns was plagued by issues. Brown was forced to fire now Miami head coach Manny Diaz, then the ‘Horns defensive coordinator, after Taysom Hill put on a show for the ages, but the cracks were already showing from the year prior. The defense had dropped almost 40 points per the SP+ from 2011 to 2012 and Hill and BYU just cemented Brown and Diaz’s fates.

Both have obviously bounced back. Diaz is now the head guy at Miami, and Brown has returned to Chapel Hill where he posted a 7-6 record in year one. The Heels have plenty of off-season hype to get excited about. They’re recruiting off the charts for UNC, and their largest margin of defeat in 2019 was seven points (twice). The Heels lost two overtime games, including a six OT showing against Virginia Tech. UNC also finished the 2019 season on a three game winning streak over Mercer, NC State, and Temple in the bowl.

UNC is projected by Bill Connelly’s SP+ as the 17th best team in the country with the 8th best offense and 44th best defense. Miami is projected 23rd overall with the 63rd best offense and 9th best defense.

Personnel

UNC’s only first team All-ACC preseason player, per Athlon Sports, is linebacker Chazz Surratt. Surratt is a former quarterback who switched to defense when OC Phil Longo came to Chapel Hill. Surratt finished 2019 with 115 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks and an interception. For a guy that was signed as a QB by Larry Fedora, he sure proved he’s just an all-around athlete on the field.

Duke v North Carolina Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

The second team is loaded with Tar Heels with QB Sam Howell, RB Michael Carter, WR Dyami Brown, and WR Dazz Newsome. Howell threw for 38 touchdowns with seven interceptions and 8.6 yards per attempt as a true freshman. Carter ran for 1,003 yards and scored five times from scrimmage last season. Brown led the team in receiving yards with 1,034 and an eye-popping 20.3 yards per catch with 12 TD’s in 2019. He’s joined again by Newsome who hauled in 72 balls for 1,018 yards and 10 scores last season. Phil Longo delivered on his promise to bring an exciting, high scoring offense to Chapel Hill.

OL Jordan Tucker is on the 3rd team, while RB Javonte Williams, linebacker Tomon Fox, and cornerback Storm Duck (who the hell named these kids?!) are on the 4th team. Williams ran for over 900 yards with five scores. Fox logged 56 tackles with 10 TFL and seven sacks last year while Duck finished second on the team in PBU’s with five.


Scheme on O

Phil Longo (I’ve written a lot about his offense here) is an 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end) OC that likes to utilize tempo, simplicity, and quick easy gains before setting up for a deep throw downfield. UNC uses a zone based run scheme (split zone especially) with counter included (counter is a gap scheme play). Longo likes to use run-pass options (RPO’s) both pre and post snap. In the passing game- Longo’s offense is a modernized Air Raid system.

Above, Inside zone read (IZR) is a staple of 99% of college football programs. Howell has the ability to run just enough to keep defenses honest, or to make them pay when they forget about him as an option. UNC runs IZR with a slot as a “pitch” option post pull ie, after the “dive phase” of the play.

Above, Howell is running an IZR with a post-snap option to throw the ball to the slot WR on the zig-out. When the flat defender (No 4) ran with the WR, Howell, kept and got big yardage.

Above- UNC runs a counter with two pullers and Carter shows patience and the vision to follow his blockers to open space. This is how you set up the play-action deep throws we’ll look at next.

UNC is going to run the football. Those runs and quick 5-yard outs that Longo dials up so often lull DB’s to sleep. Above, Howell burns Miami deep after a play-action fake to put UNC up early against Miami.

Above, again, UNC”s ability to run sucks up linebackers and their pass protection gives Howell time to get the ball downfield. This is amazing touch and placement from Howell, and obviously a next level play by the wide receiver.


Scheme on D

Jay Bateman came from Army West Point to UNC as one of Coach Brown’s genius coordinator hires in Chapel Hill. Bateman, like Longo, is a young, up and comer who will be a head coach soon. Bateman bases out of a 3-4 defense but can make calls and adjustments to turn it into a 4-3 look or 5-2 with ease. Think Pete Carroll at USC but even more varied in coverage. We know Pete typically just runs cover 1 or 3, Bateman runs more coverages than that.

But with UNC’s pressure, they’re a high-risk / high-reward type of defense. Many 3-4 defenses are as they rely on pressure and turnovers to make plays. Miami got behind UNC a couple of times in 2019, even with a poorly under thrown ball in the GIF below. That’s a key to beating the Tar Heels- hitting the deep ball.


Canyonero keys to victory

For Miami, the keys to beating UNC will be first to put pressure on Sam Howell. Miami can’t let him have time to pick them apart, hit on deep throws, or scramble around. Howell doesn’t have elite speed but again it’s enough to frustrate a defense. With all the hype surrounding Greg Rousseau and Quincy Roche- this is the game to back it up.

As I said above, the Heels defensive backfield is a weakness. Miami OC Rhett Lashlee and transfer QB D’Eriq King will have to attack UNC deep. It worked in 2019 for Miami. It worked for other UNC opponents all season. Until UNC gets more athleticism on defense, try to out run them.

Of course, for Miami protecting the QB against Surratt and the UNC blitz schemes of Jay Bateman is the final key. The Miami O-Line was so bad in 2019 that it every game’s key to success in 2020 will be how Coach Justice’s group performs this season.