The Carolina offense had 25 first downs in each of the last two games against the Blue Devils. On one hand these can be viewed as good stats, but on the other it’s cause for concern because we couldn’t score on big plays. The tailback position of the Heels carried the ball 66 times for 340 yards against Duke in their last two meetings. Over those two games, Dwight Jones had 21 catches but for only 222 yards. Any Tar Heel fan knows that Dwight was capable of a 200 yard receiving day with only seven catches.
Coach Knowles and the Duke staff limited our quick strike ability and made us play a patient, grind it out style of football. Sometimes commentators refer to this as a “bend but don’t break” style of defense. I think that has negative connotations. Aggressive zone schemes that don’t give up big plays and force an offense to have mental and physical endurance while going the “long hard way” is sound football.
Last week against Virginia Tech I was surprised that the Blue Devils gave up four touchdowns of 40 yards or more. This is highly uncharacteristic for their style. In fact the Duke defense hadn’t given up a scoring play of more than 40 yards since the second play of the season, on September 1, against FIU. Good coaching staffs have a way of correcting problems from week to week. I imagine Duke spent a great deal of time this week on eliminating big plays.
The good news is that UNC appears to have the mental and physical endurance to put drives together. They also have the talent. Gio is an uncommon back running behind an uncommon group of offensive linemen. I had dinner with an NFL scout recently and he remarked that the three most talented lines he has seen in the country this year are Alabama, Texas A&M, and North Carolina. James Hurst, Jonathan Cooper, Russell Bodine, Travis Bond, Landon Turner, and Brennan Williams are fully capable of maintaining long sustained drives again this year.
The Long Hard Way
When UNC played Duke while I was offensive coordinator, our staff talked a lot about “going the long hard way” versus their defense. Duke plays a very aggressive and disciplined form of zone that prevents many big plays. If we just took what they gave us and made every play work, we could go the “long hard way.”