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Summer Scheming 21: North Carolina Tar Heels

The ACC Coastal should come down to a battle between The U and UNC in Chapel Hill.

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

When Mack Brown came back to North Carolina, it cause a butterfly effect around the ACC that’s still being felt heading into Year 3. Brown, a Tennessee native, has turned the UNC football program around twice now over his illustrious career.

Brown flipping QB Sam Howell from Florida State to UNC probably cost Willie Taggert his job with the Seminoles, helped propel UNC from 2-9 to two winning seasons, and has changed the look of the ACC as Dave Doeren, Manny Diaz and Jeff Hafley have all tried to bring a faster-paced, more spread out offense to the ACC.

After posting three double-digit win seasons as the head coach of the Heels in the 90’s, Brown went on to Texas to coach the Longhorns. Brown’s Longhorns went on a nine season run of double-digit wins, including the 2008 FBS National Championship before a complete collapse in 2010.

Info: Miami @ UNC in Chapel Hill, NC.

Day/Time/Channel: October 16, 2021 / TBD / TBD

Coach Brown went on to work in TV for five seasons before returning to college football, and Chapel Hill, in 2019. The Heels have since finished 7-6 and 8-4. The Hurricanes and Tar Heels have split their all-time series 11-11, which dates back to 1946. Since Miami joined the ACC, UNC has a slight lead over The U with a nine win and eight loss record.

2020 Record/Ranking: 8-4/18th.

2020 Data: 41.7PPG scored (9th in FBS), 29.4PPG allowed (65th in FBS).

Bowl Game: Lost the Orange Bowl 41-27 versus Texas A&M.


Key Losses: Javonte Williams, RB; Michael Carter, RB; Chazz Surratt, LB; Dyami Brown, WR; Dazz Newsome, WR.

The Tar Heels have 13 (second to only Clemson) Preseason All-ACC players per Athlon Magazine. The Heels also return 16 of 22 starters on offense and defense, although they lost a ton of production from key losses: Williams, Carter, Brown, Newsome and Surratt.

Leading the All-ACC first team offense is QB Sam Howell. Howell scored 36 (five rushing, one receiving) touchdowns a year ago while averaging 10.3 yards per passing attempt. Howell doesn’t have his familiar weapons around him, but he does return all five starting offensive linemen from 2020, including fellow first team OL Joshua Ezeudu, and his tight end Garrett Walston.

The Heels have two defenders on the second team in DL Raymond Vohasek and CB Tony Grimes. Vohasek logged 8.5 TFL’s and 3.5 sacks in 2020. Grimes had three PBU’s and an interception last season.

Tennessee vs Auburn Photo by Andrew Ferguson/Collegiate Images/Getty Images

RB Ty Chandler made the third team offense for UNC, along with OL Jordan Tucker. Chandler, a transfer from Tennessee, has the tools to be a home run threat for UNC in ‘21. Chandler is a dangerous kick returner and big run threat from the back field. Safety Trey Morrison is on the 3rd team defense. Morrison had 39 tackles and three PBU’s in 2020.

The fourth team is filled with Tar Heels starting with WR Josh Downs and OL Brian Anderson. Downs caught three touchdowns last season. On defense, the Heels have DL Tomari Fox, LB Tomon Fox, and CB Storm Duck. The Fox duo combined for 16.5 TFL’s and 11 sacks in 2020, while Duck had two PBU’s.

Heels Scheme on O

The Tar Heels run the NCAA favorite 11 personnel grouping (one running back, one tight end) that covers about 90% of the NFL and 80+% of FBS football. UNC does have to replace Williams, Carter, Newsome and Brown- but Mack Brown has been recruiting with his gray hair on fire. Khafire Brown, Dyami’s brother, averaged over 20 yards per reception a year ago. Howell’s old high school teammate, Gavin Blackwell, could be a big play threat early on, too.

Longo will run zone and gap schemes. He likes GT Counter, Power, and inside and outside zone. He’s a big RPO proponent who will also let the QB run on GT Counter and inside zone read. They’ll even wrinkle in speed option at times for Howell. In the passing game they use Air Raid concepts but with a West Coast mentality of completion percentage being above all else. Howell has completed almost 65% of his passes as a Tar Heel.

How do you lose to the UNC offense? Give up 554 rushing yards on 10 yards per carry. But really the answer is- if you don’t adjust during the game OC Phil Longo will pick your defense apart. Miami didn’t make adjustments in 2020 and it cost Blake Baker his job and forced Manny Diaz to take on DC duties in ‘21. ‘Canes DL Coach Jess Simpson will be more adept at teaching multiple moves and playing in control, which the Miami DL didn’t do in 2020. It caused them to get kicked out (blocked to the sideline) against UNC which opened wide running lanes.

How do you beat the UNC offense? For as good as Howell is, he’s a risk taker. He’s going to take questionable deep shots, scramble around too long, and try to thread the needle between defenders like a young Brett Favre. He’s more of a turnover risk when he has no blatantly open receiver than if he’s pressured. UNC has had Miami’s number under Mack Brown with Howell playing his uber-confident brand of football.

If you want to beat Longo’s offense you have to align, assign and finish. Miami needs to become better in pursuit angles and tackling above all else this off-season. If Bubba Bolden wants to live up to the All-ACC and NFL Draft hype he can’t be on every running back’s highlight film taking a bad angle before diving and missing the tackle.

Heels Scheme on D

Like UVA, UNC runs a 3-4 defense that DC Jay Bateman brought with him from Army West Point and before that Ball State and Elon. In coaching circles, Bateman is known for being a fundamentally sound coach who specializes in tackling and block destruction drills. UNC will use pressure in their odd front to get to the QB. They’ll miss Surratt, but the Fox brothers are still in Chapel Hill with inside linebacker Jeremiah Gemmel who had 78 stops a year ago.

How do you lose to the UNC defense? Miami will lose to UNC if the Heels can get pressure on QB D’Eriq King by rushing four. The UNC defensive backs will be improved in 2021 with five players with experience in the back four. When King has time he can pick defenses apart, but when he’s rushed he makes mistakes or is forced to run which has to be an ‘only when needed’ quality after his knee surgery.

How do you beat the UNC defense? If you want to beat the UNC defense you need to keep them on the field. Their offense scores tons of points and sustains long drives (39th in FBS in time of possession) even with their big play capability. That lets the UNC defense come on the field not only fresh, but with a cushion from their offensive scoring. Miami has to put together drives and pick up 3rd downs with more consistency. The OL will be the key for Miami and every team aspiring to make a playoff run in 2021.

What concept can Miami use against UNC? GT Counter. It’s a concept where it can be run with a QB pull read, but also an RPO to save King some of the pounding of having to keep the ball all of the time. Above you can see FSU using a GT Counter read against UNC for a touchdown in their upset over UNC.

Above- Here is a diagram of GT Counter Read above. You can also read me talk about Counter for SOTU here. The QB will read the defender in red and if he ‘squeezes’ (comes down the line) the QB will pull, if he sits he’ll give and that takes a defender away from the run play.

From Inside Texas

Above- you can see a variation of GT Counter from the Oklahoma Sooners that uses a post-snap RPO versus a QB pull read. If the defenders chase the Guard and Tackle (GT) the QB can pull and throw the swing route. It’s a beautiful play that when ran right should have major open space to one side of the field.

Canyonero keys to victory

1- Finish. On defense you have three parts: align, assign, finish. The finish is the pursuit to the football (on a run play typical pursuit, on a pass getting in position to defend the throw) and to finish the play (PBU, interception, sack, TFL or tackle). Miami can’t be an NFL Draft highlight reel for Chandler and Howell in ‘21 like they were for Williams and Carter in ‘20.

2- Inside Zone Read. “Zone read” might be the most overused phrase in college football (RPO is still in 2nd place, but it’s gaining ground) and King has to improve his reads in the inside zone read game. DC’s are using a “mesh charge” technique (read more here) of attacking the QB and forcing him to make a quick decision in both the read option and RPO game- which is where King failed often in ‘20.

3- Special teams. Block a punt, return a kick for a TD, do something in the kicking game! I have harped on the kicking game a lot in previous Summer Scheming ‘21 pieces but it’s true, get after it in the kicking game and take momentum away from UNC, especially at home in Chapel Hill. Coach Patke has to prove he’s more than two individual pieces and can actually coach to protect, cover, block and return in the kicking game.

Way too early prediction: UNC by 4.