I thought of that story when I saw Gio Bernard’s stats last week versus Va. Tech. He averaged 11.4 yard on 23 carries. I pictured Dick Jauron wondering why he didn’t carry it more.
In my first article of the season I said that UNC would be undefeated in games Gio had 25 carries or more. While he fell two short last week I stand by my prediction. I have coached for 21 years, including 12 in the NFL, and have been around some great running backs. Gio Bernard is uncommon. He combines finishing speed with rare lateral quickness. He has great strength, toughness, and intelligence. If he has endurance and durability the second half of the season he could be an All-American.
Endurance and durability in football players are qualities that can often be overlooked by the average fan. The first question a good pro scout asks is how many games and practices has a player missed over his college career. The best ability is availability. With Gio available and running behind a mammoth offensive line, UNC will be tough to beat in the second half of the season.
Duke v. Va. Tech
Having good game film to study is an important part of putting a game plan together. As Duke coaches prepare for Va. Tech, they will study two weeks of spread offenses attacking the Va. Tech defense. Cincinnati and UNC both had success against the Hokies and I am certain those game films have generated great ideas for Duke OC Kurt Roper and his staff. Conversely, Va. Tech is usually pretty good at putting out fires and for them to be sitting at 3-3 right now is unusual. I look forward to what Hokie DC Bud Foster will do schematically to douse the flames.
The last thing a coordinator wants out in the world of video is a template for how to attack their schemes. I am certain video coordinators from across the country are calling one another trying to get the last two games against the Va. Tech defense for their coaching staffs to study.
When I coached at UNC I thought it was an advantage to play Duke late in the season. I thought we had greater depth than they did, and by the last game of the season neither of us was playing with our starting 22.
A team’s endurance and durability become evident in a number of ways during the season. Within a drive they show up on about play ten. One side of the ball is starting to cave as the other gets stronger. Within a game they show up in the second half box score. Within a season they show up at about the half-way point. Some teams talk about how banged up they are and make excuses, others endure and keep fighting until they get players back. Duke has demonstrated drive, game, and seasonal endurance.
Drive endurance was evident last week versus UVa. Duke finished six drives with TDs. While I love Connor and Casey Barth, I regularly told them I hoped they only kicked extra points each week. Converting red zone opportunities into touchdowns often has more to do with endurance and durability than it does schemes. On the tenth play of a drive the team with greater mental and physical endurance and durability will execute better when tired.
The Blue Devils outscored UVa 28-0 in the second half, a sure sign of Duke’s game endurance.
So far Duke has demonstrated seasonal endurance and durability, too. Their team has had opportunities to make excuses for some uncommon injuries that happened in the off season. But their next man up attitude was evident to me than last week at the QB position. I think Sean Renfree is a fine QB. And when he went down, Anthony Boone played effectively and he went 18-31 with 4 touchdown passes. Nothing gets an injured player back into playing shape like his back up going in and playing great.
NC State – bye
When focusing on endurance and durability, the State win versus FSU last week is a good place to finish. The Pack outscored the Noles 17-0 in the second half. FSU’s second half pass rush was not nearly what it was to begin the game. Mike Glennon worked the pocket beautifully behind a patchwork offensive line. And in the fourth quarter, he engineered two memorable touchdown drives for the win.
This week State has a bye. There were three things I wanted to accomplish as a coach on an off week. First, I wanted to do a self scout. I would newsreel our games from the season so far and ask myself if we were forging the identity that we hoped for going into the season.
Second, our staff would recruit. As a coordinator it is hard to recruit in season as well as I would have liked. I would watch a lot of high school film and talk on the phone with high school coaches and with players who we were recruiting.
Third, and most importantly, I would try to rest. The endurance and durability of the coaching staff is important too and often neglected. In the coaching world there is a mentality that rest is for the weak. But the older I get, the more I realize how much rest and sleep sharpens my senses as a coach. It is hard to create a game plan and make snap decisions on game day when you are sleep deprived.
Gio An 'Uncommon' Back
December 16, 2001 was a frigid day in Chicago and the Bears were playing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Soldier Field. It was my first full season as Offensive Coordinator and our record was 9-3 at the time (we finished the year at 13-3). We were pounding the Bucs pretty good behind our mammoth offensive line. Pro bowlers Olin Kruetz and “Big Cat” Williams cleared the way for the NFL Rookie of the Year, Anthony “A-Train” Thomas. At halftime of that game our Head Coach, Dick Jauron, was listening to me talk to the staff about pass protections and patterns that I thought would work well in the second half. He came over to me with a stat sheet that said “A-Train” was averaging over 7 yard per carry in the first half. I told him we had some nice play action passes coming up. He looked me in the eye said very clearly, “John, I suggest you keep handing it to Anthony until that average goes down.” The “A-Train” finished the game with 31 carries for 173 yards in a 27-3 Bears win.