Tying up loose ends before we shift the revolution of the world to basketball.
JP Giglio at ACC Now offers up what he calls a realistic view of the Heels heading into 2009. Giglio thinks next season might be a step back with UNC posting a 6-6 mark. His main thesis is the loss of the top three receivers and no improvement on defense will lead to a struggle for the Heels in Butch Davis' 3rd season. There is also the overarching implication that the coaching in Chapel Hill is not up to snuff. The late season swoon is seen as evidence of this, especially the handling on the quarterbacks. The argument is not without merit where the QB situation and defensive schemes are concerned. I would argue that the loss of Brandon Tate simply created a hole that was never really filled. Yes there was time to adjust to that but if anyone saw how UNC basically did very little on kick returns and the fact no other receiver on the field consistently made plays besides Hakeem Nicks, you would be a fool to believe the loss of Tate did not have a hand in the late season slide. What's done is done however and as we look to 2009, I am not disposed to nearly the kind of pessimism that Giglio is selling. I do think there are some uncertainties on offense to go along with a huge need for a defense that does not bleed yardage all game long.
The offense still brings back some key parts. TJ Yates will return as will Cam Sexton probably setting up another mini-QB controversy. Sexton played well enough and Yates struggled to some extent after his return to the point of at least putting the starting job up in the air. The issue is that it may not matter. UNC will lose it's top three receivers. Tate and Brooks Foster graduate and no one in their right mind expects Nicks to return. That leaves Yates/Sexton breaking in a completely new receiving corps. Greg Little saw significant time at WR against West Virginia. Little played well but he is not even close to where Nicks or Tate played at. It is assumed Dwight Jones will be ready to step up after sitting his freshman season. Beyond that who knows which leads to a fairly important question: How good is Yates or Sexton really? I think there is more than a small chance Yates and Sexton looked good in part because the receivers were so good. Now those top flight receivers are gone will we find out the QB are average at best? I guess we have to wait and see. A big help in this area would be a breakout season by Shaun Draughan and Ryan Houston. Once Butch Davis figured out what he had in Draughan and Houston, the running game was much better. If this aspect of the offense can improve to a level where it dominates the offensive play calling, it will minimize the losses in the passing game.
On the defensive side of the ball, I am fairly certain the general scheming must be complete redone. UNC simply gave up too many yards all season. The "bend but don't break" defense was just enough to secure some key wins but in the end it gave up too much. The main issue appears to be the pass defensive schemes. When WVU's Pat White shreds the defense passing, you know full well there is something gone horribly wrong with the defense. The general consensus is UNC does not pressure the QB enough which hangs the secondary out to dry by forcing them to cover receivers for an inordinate amount of time. The fact UNC was 11th in the ACC and is presently 68th overall in sacks supports this idea. Now, for all we know, the decision to pressure less was driven by the personnel or the personnel's inability to execute that type of defense. Heading into 2009, I do not see that the coaching staff has any other recourse but to come up with something that makes life more difficult for the opposing QB which would slow the passing game down some. It would be premature to cast too many aspersions on UNC defensive coordinator Everett Withers. I do think Withers is on notice and should be put under scrutiny if the defense struggles into next season.
For the most part, Giglio's main premise centered on the uncertain nature of the Tar Heel team heading into next season. If the Heels cannot aquit themselves better on defense while estabslishing a quality balanced offense, then Giglio may be correct and 6-6 is the landing point. However, should some things break the right way such as the defense making a leap forward in 2009 and the running game becomes dominant with solid play at QB the program will continue to trend upwards in terms of on-the-field performances. In short there are plenty of questions, no easy answers and eight months before we get there.
Good thing we have basketball to pass the time.