A Coach's Perspective
Following football in the Triangle will be hard for me this season. I’m taking a year off from coaching since being fired by UNC. I won’t be watching many games on TV but will be getting game films weekly to study. Watching the more sterilized game film copy may ease some of the pain of not coaching a team.
I have some great friends on the Duke and State coaching staffs that I will be able to root for in a way I never have before, and that will be pleasing. Most importantly, there are many fine young men on the Carolina team in whom I have deeply invested feelings. I hope great things happen for each of them.
In this column, I will provide a coach’s perspective this football season. Since I’m not calling plays for now, I will, for once, look forward to all your comments.
N.C. State v. Tennessee (Friday night)
In 2010, I had the chance to coach in the Chick-fil-A bowl when UNC played LSU. We were without 14 starters who were suspended but gave the Tigers all they could handle behind T.J. Yates’ memorable performance. It was a very exciting atmosphere, and the State fans are in for a treat.
This is a great match-up between two similar QBs and two accomplished play callers. Tyler Bray and Mike Glennon are both tall, lanky QBs with strong pocket presence and good production. The difference is that Bray will have to throw against one of the best secondaries in the country. I know from experience (bad experience) that David Amerson is an All-American. If this becomes a pass fest, which it may, you can bet that Amerson will get his hands on two or three balls. What separates him from common corners is that when he touches it, he catches it. Some corners are satisfied with PBUs (pass break ups). Not him. He has the hands of a great WR. His playmaking ability reminds me of Dre’ Bly. I’m setting the over/under for combined pass attempts at 92.
I also think this is a great match-up of play callers. I have a profound respect for Dana Bible, the OC at State. Jim Chaney, the OC for UT, loves to call passes and is good at it. After all, he was Drew Brees’ coordinator at Purdue. However, I know UT has a seasoned and talented OL and some strong RBs. If the Vols can run the ball, control the clock and keep the ball out of Glennon’s and Amerson’s hands, they have a shot at winning. But I think State will be tough to beat because of strong senior leadership and a staff that is seasoned and able to handle the inevitable unexpected that comes with a big time opening game.
UNC v. Elon
I think Elon has a chance to contend for a conference title, but will run into too much talent in Chapel Hill to open the season.
UNC has great talent on offense. It starts with Bryn Renner. He was the most efficient QB in the conference and averaged 8.91 yards per pass attempt last season. Steve Young once said the most telling stat for a QB is yards per attempt and anything over 8 yards is special. I think Bryn is special and a future NFL player. And Bryn played all of his record-breaking last season with three bone spurs the size of grapes in his foot. The trainer told me he had never seen a person able to play with such an injury. His amazing toughness, uncommon leadership skills, and humble demeanor make him a person the entire Carolina community can rally around. He stands for what is right in college sports.
Bryn is lucky to have six offensive linemen on the team that will make a living playing football on Sundays. James Hurst, Jonathan Cooper, Russel Bodine, Travis Bond, Brennan Williams and Landon Turner are all NFL prospects. I’d challenge anyone to find a better-looking offensive line in college ball. They are big, strong, and athletic. But most important, they all love one another and have uncommon chemistry.
A guy just as lucky as Bryn to have these giants in front of him is RB Gio Bernard, who is strong, powerful, fast and quicker than a hic-up. He is also a wonderful person. I will bet that Carolina doesn’t lose a game in which he has 25 carries or more. Gio also had 45 catches last year. If he gets 30 touches a game, he will be in the Heisman conversation.
Finally, a sleeper to keep an eye on is Eric Ebron. He is the most talented player UNC has had at TE since I started coaching here, and that includes a couple of NFLers in Zach Pianalto and Ryan Taylor. If you are in a fantasy league, you want Eric on your roster. Trust me on that one.
Duke v. FIU
Florida International is a team I’m glad we never had to play. I watched them a number of times against a common opponent and remember thinking they had fine athletes and were well coached. This is a tough draw for Duke. I think FIU has a great coaching staff and athletic administration, led by AD Pete Garcia. They are aiming high. Some in the coaching world believe FIU could overtake the U in coming years. I wouldn’t bet against Pete Garcia and Mario Cristobal.
I think Duke has an outstanding staff, too. OC Kurt Roper is bright and creative. I have always valued studying his schemes when we played common opponents. He will draw up anything to score some points including sets with three QBs. Duke will be fun to watch on offense this year.
On defense, they play solid zone football. In zone, eleven pairs of eyes are on the ball creating more gang tackling. You can play fast in zone because you’re never the last line of defense. FIU will have a new OC this year as Scott Satterfield left to return to Appalachian State. But the schemes should be the same. Rest assured it won’t be something Jim Knowles, Duke’s DC, hasn’t seen before. Duke’s staff has marvelous chemistry that will continue to serve them well on their march to a bowl game this season. This would be a quality win for Duke. Those in the coaching business know how good FIU is even if the rest of the country doesn’t yet.