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Furman: The Morning After

Well I guess this is the second morning after.

First of all let me offer the following disclaimer. I am not well versed in all the Xs and Os of football. I understand a majority of the basic premises and foundational truths with govern football strategy but there is still a lot I do not know. So my analysis will be primarily based on common sense observations I glean from listening to John Bunting talk and what I can read on a stat sheet. So bearing all of that in mind after what I witnessed against Furman let me offer the following premise for consideration:

The defense has the personnel but not the good coaching it needs to perform well.

Now before I dissect that premise let's step back and look at the offense. First of I hope this is officially the end of the two QB system. I think Joe Dailey's role will be limited and he might see action if something in the game dictates a need for his skill set on the field as long as it does not mean throwing a pass. Then on second thought that means Dailey's presence in the game is a dead giveaway that he will be running the ball so perhaps not. Cam Sexton, for better or worse, is it and so far, so good. And not that Furman gives us a huge indication but in since they did drop 45 on the Paladians I have to think that his great offensive production regardless of the opponent. Ronnie McGill came to play and Sexton handled the passing game. The UNC offense on Saturday night was what we were told was going to happen during the preseason. The Frank Cignetti version of the West Coast offense calls for running the ball and passes downfield to strecth the defense. The word was that UNC would be a running team with some passing mixed in to keep things balanced and the opposing defense wondering. I can only assume that the INT fest hampered the ability to get the running game going. Also I am wondering if the whole two QB fiasco sowed seeds of doubts for the offense in general causing them to underperform. We have no way of knowing but the results on Saturday night cannot be argued with. If McGill runs well, Sexton makes good decisions and occasionally hits Jesse Holley for big strikes I think the offense will only get better and going into next season the passing attack may become a more prominent piece.

It also should be noted that the offense was and is not expected to produce a lot of points. An offense which runs the ball a lot and relies on short passes tends to chew up the clock so in many ways points were not expected in spades. Based on my read of the preseason analysis, I expected the offense to score mostly between 21 and 34 points leaning more towards the low end. This puts a lot of pressure on the defense to keep the score in line. And in actuality against Rutgers(21 points) and Virginia Tech(28 but 14 coming from turnovers at the goal line) the points have been down even though Rutgers ran for 217 yards. Then along came Furman, a very good I-AA, who dropped 42 points and over 500 yards of offense. So in three weeks we have a Rutgers game where they gave up big yards but kept the score down. Against the Hokies thet did a good job on both fronts, and against Furman basically laid down on the Kenan turf and let the Paladins go nuts. So why such wild inconsistency? Why is it the defense can hold a ranked team to 224 yards of total offense and the next week get ripped by a school playing in a lower division? The answer is probably in the wind but let me take a stab at it.

1. The defensive work against Virginia Tech was overrated

As much as everyone touted the effort against Virginia Tech, if you actually sit and think about it a minute was it really that good? I would say yes, to a point. Consider the following factors. First, Virginia Tech does not have a great offense. Frank Beamer relies more on defense and special teams and the offense was being run by a new QB and a inexperienced offensive line. In other words the Hokie OL was not the kind of OL which will run you right off the line of scrimmage. Secondly, the Hokies did not need a lot from the offense since they got the ball on the goal line twice. In short, VT is a smashmouth running team and since their QB is new UNC had a fairly limited expectation of what they would do on offense. So in one respect the preparation for Virginia Tech was not complicated since it was well known the Hokies would run the football. I knew it. The media knew it. Heck, my two year old son probably knew it. The point is playing defense against VT requires less intricate preparation and coaching. There is less opportunity for confusion because the offense they use is very straightforward. VT has the talent to do what they need to do on offense so ultimately you still have to overcome that factor which the UNC defenders did a pretty good job at. So from that I can conclude that the UNC defense is talented enough to handle a good offense as long as they have been prepared adequately. So that being said...

2. What happened against Rutgers and Furman?

The players were not prepared to face the opposing offense. What other conclusion can we reach here. The post game quotes from the Furman game alone confirm that UNC had not practiced against the offensive sets Furman used in the second half. I believe the word Bunting used was "surprised." In my mind that is coachspeak for: "We did not address it in practice this week." Of course if you go back to the Rutgers game Bunting talked a lot about missing tackes and players failing to make adjustments for some of the different things Rutgers did. He also talked a lot about making the right "fit" in a play. This was all talk which put the blame on the players for failing to mentally and physically execute on the field. The word of the day on September 2nd was "confusion." And we all bought into it, partially because there was some truth to the failure of the UNC defenders to execute physically but also because it was the first game and UNC did hold Rutgers to 21 points. Now that we have seen two other opponents I am less inclined to swallow the whole Rutgers spin now. Now, looking back, the word "confusion" can be translated: "The players were uncertain of how to react to offensive sets they had not been prepared to face." In other words, despite some of the failures in terms of physical and mental execution, there are also had to be a failure in the preparation and the adjustments made by the coaches. The VT game did not require much prep and nor did it require much adjustment since the Hokies did exactly what UNC expected them to do. Plus, UNC played VT at the end of last season. Rutgers, on the other hand, seemingly came with something different and it did not help that their offensive line controlled the line of scrimmage so well. Ultimately the defense during the Rutgers game could not adjust because they did not have anyone telling them how to adjust. And I know this because against Furman we saw the same thing. The players were getting killed because (1) they were not prepared for the sets Furman used and (2) no one was adjusting the defense adequately enough for the success Furman was enjoying. And yes I could be full of crap here but one stat that blew me away was the fact Furman came in averaging around 87 yards of passing in two previous games but lit UNC up for over 300 yards in one night. So in my simplistic analysis there are one of two reasons you allow a formerly inept passing team become an exceptional passing team and that is either your players all fell down on coverage or your defense was ill prepared and unable to adjust to the different schemes. Which means...

3. The coaches, NOT THE PLAYERS, are to blame for the bad defense

And this is an important point because Bunting hung his defense out to dry after the Rutgers loss. Granted he was not totally without merit but now we know the source of the defensive issues at UNC rests on the coaching staff not the players. And you need no further evidence of this than too look at Bunting's comments after the Furman game in which he said they did not practice for some of the Furman offensive sets because they were older sets the Paladins did not use anymore. Well, that's fine, I guess, but I would think you would talk about it some and if it was "in the back of your mind" that Furman might use these sets then how is it you did not have adjustments ready. It was obvious to me that Furman made a huge point of adjusting at halftime to whatever UNC was doing on defense by breaking these sets out in the second half. So why, pray tell, did the UNC coaching staff not make similar adjustments to counter it? I just cannot buy into the fact the players on the field screwed this up by failing to physically execute. Sure they made some mistakes but there is no excuse for the way that defense played and the blame falls squarely on the coaches. And since John Bunting was a defensive coach it really magnifies the problem that he is unable to field a defense that can stop a I-AA team from getting 42 ponts and 500 yards of offense.

I think the evidence is clear that the best way to beat UNC is to use a variety of offensive looks which require play-to-play or series-to-series adjustments by the coaching staff. If a team is having trouble moving the ball against UNC then all they need to do is make some radical adjustments to do some unexpected stuff and then watch Bunting fail to adjust the defense to match it. Quality defensive teams might get burned once or twice on a set but once they adjust to whatever new thing the offense is doing then they do a good job of shutting them down. I believe there is sufficient talent on the UNC defense to have kept Furman under 20 points. I also believe there is sufficient personnel on the UNC defense to make the necessary plays against most of the offenses they will face going forward. The question is whether these players will receive the proper preparation from the coaching staff and whether that coaching staff is able to make the adjustments on the fly to answer the opposing team's offense.

If not, it is going to be a very, very long day in South Bend on November 4th and if the same thing happens there that happened against Furman(or Louisville last season) then the only thing I want to hear from John Bunting is: It's all my fault.