Usually an offensive coordinator can categorize defenses into two families. One is middle of the field open coverages (MOFO), like cover 2, where there is no safety in the deep middle. With this type of coverage, defenses have only seven defenders committed to the “box” defending the run game. Generally speaking, it is easier to run the ball versus a “7 in the box/ 2 deep” defense than it is to throw. (fig. 1)
Another family is middle of the field closed coverages (MOFC), like cover 3 or man free, where there is a safety deep in centerfield. In this family of defense a play caller can count on an “8 man box” and it makes running the ball difficult and passing more appealing. (fig. 2)
And then you have Virginia Tech which, versus a standard two back set, has nine guys in the box defending the run while playing a form of cover 2. Stacking the box and playing cover 2 is the best of both worlds. I think this is one reason Va. Tech has been such an effective defense for a number of years. (fig. 3)
The Free Safety (FS) is the guy that makes this defense uncommon. The FS is usually a guy who has a remarkable nose for the ball (#8 Detrick Bonner this year). He is the 9th guy in the front playing the run and is tight enough that he is nearly impossible to block from outside/in with a WR. The only way to block this guy in the run game is from inside out with a lead back or tight end. For that reason, against Va. Tech, we rarely lined up in our tradition pro style two back sets to run the ball. We played the game in a lot of 2 TE, 2 Back personnel groupings and used tight formations blocking the FS from inside out.
Another way to battle this defense is in 3 WR sets. These formations may remove the FS from the box entirely giving an offense lanes to run. The good news for UNC is that being spread out is their primary mode of operation. They should not have to deal with the numbers problem that pro style offenses have versus Va. Tech. And they have quality film to study as the Hokies just played Cincinnati and the formations that UNC will use are similar.
UNC’s defense deserves a lot of credit for not giving up a touchdown over the last ten quarters. No matter your opponents, that statistic should be used to foster morale and enhance confidence. Va. Tech, however, will offer a much more diverse run game than ECU or Idaho presented. With their talented QB, Logan Thomas, they will create some complicated run fits that UNC struggled with against Louisville.
N.C. State v. Florida State
Last week N.C. State had an interesting box score. They had 440 passing yards balanced with 224 rushing yards. I counted 13 big plays (runs over 12 yards and passes over 18 yards) in the game for State’s offense and the Pack accumulated an amazing 664 yards of total offense. The problem is State also had six turnovers to Miami’s one. As much as I can’t imagine losing a game where an offense generated 664 yards of offense, I also can’t imagine winning a game with a -5 turnover margin.
State should have strong production again this week in a game that could have a similar offensive flavor. Florida State is a well coordinated defense. They generate a fierce pass rush with their defensive line making it so the secondary doesn’t have to cover very long. The Noles defensive backs will jump a lot of intermediate routes between 12 and 18 yards, because if it was anything deeper they assume the QB is sacked.
When secondaries aren’t used to covering for a long time the key is to find a way for the QB to gain a half second in the pocket. In 2010 when T.J. Yates prepared to play FSU, we spent a lot of practice time on working the pocket: side stepping rushers and finding a safe spot to launch a pass while keeping your eyes downfield. This is different than scrambling. When a QB works the pocket he stays between the tackles and makes subtle, short movements to avoid rushers. Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are two of the best at this technique.
If Mike Glennon can work the pocket at a high level this week, I’m certain that Coach Bible will design ways to get receivers open versus this tough FSU defense.
Duke v. Virginia
If you like quarterbacks, this game will be fun to watch. Duke uses three QB’s every game. Sean Renfree usually produces 200+ yards passing. Brandon Connette will have a couple of TD’s rushing in the red zone. And Anthony Boone will get a few passes and runs just to keep defenses on their toes and morale high in the meeting room.
For Virginia, Michael Rocco has been the starter and split time with Phillip Sims all season. While it appears that Phillip will start the game this week, I’m willing to bet both will continue to play. That makes five quarterbacks in one game.