That is how I feel about Thursday games. “Forget the shoot around. Just blow the horn.” While in the NFL I coached with the Chicago Bears versus the Detroit Lions in their traditional Thanksgiving Day game at noon. A Sunday afternoon to Thursday at noon road trip turnaround is even quicker than the Saturday afternoon to Thursday night road trip facing the Tar Heels. This turnaround forced me to focus much more on our own team than the opponent. We didn’t have the time to study the opponent as much as normal. Therefore our attitude was let’s go do what we do well and don’t over think it. “Just blow the horn.”
I think Virginia’s style of defense lends itself to this approach. Jim Reid, the DC for the Cavaliers, teaches a very traditional form of the 4-3 defense. I never felt like I had to watch a lot of film to uncover the identity of a Jim Reid coached defense. Virginia’s defense is not about trickery or schemes. They play physical, fit runs, keep eleven pairs of eyes on the ball with good zone coverage, and gang tackle.
Even with a short week, UNC should not have any confusion with how the Virginia defense aligns. We believed that very few mental errors should occur when we played Virginia and our focus was on being as physical in the trenches as possible. Because the Cavaliers were so good at fitting runs and pursuing to the ball, we emphasized the notion of “conflict of assignment.
In football deception is critical. Offenses need to put defenders in a “conflict of assignment” and it is easier to do against well-coached zone defenses. The idea is to take a defensive strength, such as diagnosing and fitting runs, and turn it into a weakness with deception. For instance, Steve Greer, UVa’s middle linebacker, is so fast to plug a gap in the run game that our primary objective in the game was to get him to plug the hole on a play action pass. Our offense used the phrase, “make the same things look different and different things look the same.” The last time the Tar Heels played in Charlottesville, our quarterback T.J. Yates and our entire offensive line did a great job making play action passes look like runs in a big 44-10 win.
We jumped out to a 27-10 halftime lead and Yates was on fire. We were using lots of play action passes to move the ball and score but were having trouble running the ball. At halftime, Coach Davis called me aside and asked me what the problem was with the run game. He wanted us to run it down their throats and we couldn’t. My response was that they were really good and fitting our schemes. That was not a response that he wanted to hear and very clearly told me he wanted us to find a way to run effectively.
Just then, a coach handed me the half time stat sheet. I said out loud, “T.J. is 13 of 15 for over 250 yards and three touchdowns in the first half.” Coach Davis sat quietly for a moment and let that sink in. Then a grin came across his face as he responded, “Ah, hell, then keep throwin’ it.”
We came out in the third quarter and T.J. put up a quick 10 points going 4-4 for 65 yards before turning it over to a young freshmen quarterback named Bryn Renner who completed his first collegiate pass that night in Charlottesville.
'Just Blow The Horn'
I once coached with a guy who grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah, and was the ball boy for the Utah Jazz during the prime of Karl Malone’s career. He told me that Malone didn’t like pre-game warm ups. In fact, Malone would often come out of the locker room right as the tip off was about to occur and go directly to center court. When I asked my friend how Malone got away with this he reminded me that as one of the all-time great players, people trusted that Karl Malone knew how to get himself ready. “Forget the shoot around. Just blow the horn” were the words my colleague said “The Mailman” recited regularly.