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Statistics Versus Strategy

By John Shoop Posted September 26, 2012 at 8:51 pm

UNC has some choices to make about how to approach the Idaho game. One approach is to run up the score, gain lots of yards, and pad statistics.  This usually pleases fans, boosters, and the press.  Another approach does not focus on stats as much as it does compiling wins for the season.  Against outmatched opponents our staff was very aware of what we put on film for future opponents.  We viewed this as an opportunity to create tendencies that would give us an advantage later. 
 
In the 2010 season, UNC played William & Mary the week before traveling to Florida State. I was afraid that our players would be looking ahead to the Seminoles rather than focusing on the task at hand. Some of our offensive linemen got injured the week before against Miami, FL, and Coach Davis decided to sit them out.   And most importantly, William & Mary, whose defense was coordinated by my brother Bob, was good and had beaten some FBS schools recently.  Even so, I knew we should beat the Tribe and we did, albeit un-sensationally, winning 21-17. 
 
In that game we called 37 run plays with the intent to direct the practice of FSU the following week.  The game was closer than I thought because I didn’t expect William & Mary to score as much as they did, but I kept calling running plays from a lot of two tight end sets knowing that FSU would spend lots of time fitting those runs. The computer reports that the defensive coaches at FSU were looking at said what our staff wanted them to say. In a handful of identifiable formations the Tar Heels were going to run the ball. 
 
We got in those run formations against FSU and T.J. Yates set a school record for passing yards with 439 on only 24 completions.  That’s 18.2 yards per completion. We won a great game and I believe much of it had to do with the tendencies we cultivated versus William & Mary.  
 
UNC has a similar opportunity this week. Idaho is struggling and while no coach will admit it, I’m willing to bet everyone believes UNC should win handily.  With Virginia Tech next on the schedule, I would be very conscious of what my team put on film.   
 
It appears to be the strategy used by State last week versus The Citadel. 
                       
N.C. State v. Miami
 
State had a strong game last week and put a lot of great runs on film that Miami’s defense is going to have to defend.  I counted 41 designed run calls for 305 yards rushing in the game for State. This is their highest run total for a game this season and the calls helped Mike Glennon get into a rhythm. The Pack was on schedule the entire game and Glennon never had to manufacture an open receiver on 3rd and long because they were never in that situation.  In fact, State converted 11 of 14 third downs and won the time of possession handily. 

Miami is going to have to spend a lot of practice time defending these runs.  The Cane’s defense is fast and pursues very well but their greatest strength can also be their greatest weakness.  As they work to fit the run game, look for Dana Bible, the OC at State, to have some complimentary play action passes that go for big gains.  In the three wins I called against Miami defenses, our best schemes were play action passes and quick mis-direction runs.  No Tar Heel fan can forget Brandon Tate’s TD run on a quick end around in 2007 against an over pursuing Calais Campbell.  The following year, Cam Sexton threw the game winning touchdown pass on a 2nd & 10 play action pass down in the red zone.  The over-pursuing Canes bit on the run fake and Cam found Brooks Foster at the front pylon for the go ahead score late in the game.  Play action passes and mis-direction runs are only effective if you call the companion run play.  Coach Bible made sure he did so last week. 
 
Defensively, Mike Archer has his hands full because he will have to defend against some explosive weapons.  Duke Johnson, the freshman tailback averages 8 yards per carry and 13.9 yards per catch. Their star wide out is Phillip Dorsett, from the same high school at Gio Bernard. I recruited Phillip and he is as fast as any player I have seen on film.  Stephen Morris, the QB, needs to continue being the facilitator.  If he can just get the ball in the hands of these guys in space, they are tough to catch and tackle. 
 
Duke v. Wake
 
Duke’s offense is getting better each week.  They are creative and have strong weekly production.  But the most impressive part of the Duke win last week was the defense.  They held Memphis to 152 total yards and 1-of-13 on 3rd and 4th down conversions.  I don’t care if they play McDougle Middle School, those are some strong numbers. 
           
Duke plays a brand of defense that I like a lot.  Most people think a blitzing, man to man defense is the most aggressive form.  I don’t.  A well-played zone defense is far more aggressive than man to man.  And Duke plays good zone defense. 
 
When a defense is playing zone, they have 11 pairs of eyes on the ball.  If they are well conditioned and pursue well, which Duke appears to do, a tackler never feels like he is the last line of defense and therefore never tip toes cautiously into engagement.  You fly around and if you miss a tackle you know pursuit is fast behind you. The team becomes a good tackling team because they have no inhibition.  They “play fast.”  As long as there is another line of defense, big plays can be kept to a minimum. It promotes gang tackling and cohesiveness among the unit.
 

More than 49% of Duke’s tackles made by their top 11 tacklers this season are assisted.  What a wonderful statistic to use to foster and promote morale.  Comparatively, UNC’s top 11 tacklers assist on 40.7% and State’s on 30.7% of all tackles. 

 

What Duke’s defense will have to be careful about this week is Tanner Price’s ability to extend a play by scrambling or buying time in the pocket.  When you’re playing zone and see a QB start to scramble one of the hardest things to do is remain in coverage until the QB crosses the line of scrimmage.  If Duke maintains their discipline they will make Wake go the long hard way every drive and that is tough duty. 
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