UNC and Louisville are very different teams from when they played each other last year. The Cards made offensive staff changes in the middle of last season, and of course we are all familiar with the total overhaul at UNC. Our staff last year thought the Cards were good on defense. With their struggling offense, we shortened the game and won a low scoring contest.
Such a low scoring win often does not appeal to fans and media. These wins, however, are often a great chance to focus on some of the best of what football is all about: strategy. The goal is to win the game. Statistics can be misleading and even meaningless if you do not win football games. Strategy can deliver the win even when the stats tell a not-so-explosive story.
The Defensive Coordinator for Louisville is Vance Bedford. Vance and I coached together from 1999 through 2003 with the Chicago Bears. He is an aggressive coach and loves to blitz. Last year I spent more time on protections than I did on designing routes to get guys open during our preparations. With that in mind, it seemed to me that the pressures Louisville had were designed to hit our QB but they wouldn’t hold up as well in the run game. Because I didn’t think we were going to have to score 30 points to win, we ended up running the ball 2/3’s of the time and Gio went over 100 yards in the win.
To throw the ball effectively against a blitzing defense your QB has to get into a mindset of beating the blitz. It will be tough to pick up every blitz Coach Bedford throws at Bryn Renner. But if he can get the ball out of his hand quickly, or beat the blitz, the coverages behind such pressures are susceptible to big plays.
Unlike last season, the Cards appear explosive on offense. Fourteen points won’t be enough to win. Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater seems to have a great rapport with the play caller, Shawn Watson. Both are operating with great confidence and it shows in the numbers.
NC State v. South Alabama
The University of South Alabama is a dangerous team. They are from the Sun Belt Conference, the same as FIU, Duke’s opening opponent. They are an FBS level school and are fast and athletic. Schools from this conference can win big games, just look at the University of Louisiana-Monroe’s win over Arkansas last weekend. I’m certain that game got everybody’s attention in the Murphy Center in Raleigh. The staff will have some familiarity with their opponent because they played last year. This is helpful because the players will not have to be convinced how talented South Alabama is. They will know first hand.
Morale should be good at N.C. State. They’re coming off a gratifying win against a tough road opponent and they finally get to have their home opener. I’ll bet that Dana Bible, the OC at State, will do everything possible to get Mike Glennon rolling. Getting a QB lots of completions can help boost his confidence. 30 plus completions for Glennon this week and another 30 next week versus The Citadel could be the lift the Pack needs going into the meat of their schedule.
Coaches will never look past an immediate opponent, but my bet is the staff at State is aware that they need a confident, poised, and productive QB when their schedule stiffens against Miami and Florida State starting at the end of the month. If Glennon has two big weeks statistically, look for that to heighten the confidence of the entire squad.
Duke v. N.C. Central
Most football coaches are extremely routinized people. When my weekly routine was altered, it seemed to affect the game in in an adverse way. Last Saturday, Duke and Stanford kicked off at 10:30 pm eastern time. I imagine the game was over around 1:30. The plane left the west coast for Raleigh around four in the morning and landed mid morning on Sunday.
Because Duke had a morning practice on Tuesday, they had a lot to cram into a small window of time. They needed to review the Stanford game, then game plan for N.C. Central, prep for practice, and find some sleep all in just about a 24 hour span. Never underestimate the difficulty of altering a routine in the coaching profession.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that after an unusual week, Duke is playing a familiar opponent in N.C. Central. As a coach, I wasn’t always fond of playing an FCS level school because it’s a no win situation. If you win, you were supposed to. If you lose, you start calling realtors. But this game is different because it has more potential for good things to happen. The city of Durham will be celebrating the Bull City Gridiron Classic sponsored by the Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce. No matter the outcome, somebody in town will be happy.
This game will give Duke a chance to work on the run game because they will be more physical than Central. A lot of the swing passes Renfree throws are coupled with runs. He decides whether to hand off to the runner or kick it out to a WR on a swing screen. There is no audible or “check with me” at the line of scrimmage. The core runs the run and the perimeter runs the WR screen plays. I love these concepts and have used them a lot, but I look for Duke to hand it off no matter how many defenders are in the box defending the run because they will be the more physical team.
Nothing fosters good morale in a team like an offensive line coming off the ball and playing some smash mouth football. I’ll bet you’ll see Duke get physical and run down hill regardless of the defense. Developing a strong, physical demeanor will help as they approach the meat of their schedule.