Carolina rolled on Saturday in a game that was not very competitive after the first half. The Heels played better than the Illini in every facet of the game. The defense impressed in this game, giving up only seven points in meaningful action. Coach Chizik got a great game out of the unit which bent but never broke in this game---the key improvement from last year. The secondary in this game was dominant since Illini quarterback Lunt had all day to throw but could only muster 140 yards on 32 attempts. The Heels impressed on offense at the same time rolling to the tune of 471 total yards.
Here are five takeaways for today's game going into Delaware but really into Georgia Tech:
Marquise Williams is Best When Told to Run:
Early in the game Williams seemed a bit off--he missed some easy reads forced a few passes and looked like he had happy feet in the pocket. This was most evident on his interception, he had lots of space to scramble for a first down but he forced a pass into double coverage that ended up being intercepted. Williams got on track by running the football. The Heels gave him four carries in the second quarter and he turned them into 49 yards. Williams was allowed to run the read option and the Heels ran several package plays with keeper options for Williams that really helped him get into the game and the yards he picked up on the ground gave him confidence. Later in the game Williams looked much more comfortable in the pocket and rolling out that he had early in the game. The best example is on the touchdown to Proehl, it was a play action pass but he was being chased; even then, Williams remained calm found Proehl open and delivered the ball on target for six. Williams has seemed off in the pocket a few times this year, hopefully this game shows that when nervous the coaches should use him as a runner to acclimate him to the game.
Elijah Hood is for Real:
Elijah Hood repeated his performance against South Carolina in this game, going for 129 yards on only 16 carries. Hood's afternoon was nicely capped off by his 28 yard run for a score. If Hood continues to produce at this level then the Heels' offense could be one of the top outfits in the conference. Some people will advocate him getting more carries but in a game like this that was not really in doubt, I do not think that the injury risk is worth it. The fewer carries will also keep him fresh for conference play--not a bad idea either.
The Coaching Staff Might Be Learning:
Larry Fedora coached one of his best games in this one and the coaching staff in general had a solid day. There was no Mitch Trubisky in meaningful minutes to throw off Williams. There was a steady dose of Hood and Carolina fired on all cylinders in this game. The defense was great especially with their backs to goal--coming up with a red zone stop on the games' first series. There was also no trickeration, the scheme was vanilla, and that was refreshing. The Heels did not need to do anything special to win this game and Fedora realized that. The Heels ran simple read options out of the shotgun and basic routes. Fedora trusted his personnel and quarterback to produce on offense and they did without any gimmicks. That isn't to say that all the gimmicks are always bad but that this wasn't a game where they were necessary and that recognition is an important one for the Heels.
Carolina Still Needs a Pass Rush:
That being said, the Heels still have plenty of work to do. If Coach Chizick can manufacture interior penetration in about two weeks that would be great. The Heels gave Illinois QB Wes Lunt the cleanest pocket you'll see for a team that losses in a blowout. The Heels could not get any pressure with their front four for most of the game and in the early part of the third quarter before the outcome was obvious the Heels rushed five on every passing play to try to create some pressure. Some of this might be the fact that Lunt is not a mobile quarterback so the Heels did not have to really set the edge to prevent scrambles for the first time all season. This would let the Heels drop seven into coverage to blanket receivers. However the Heels should still have come up with something in this game. Carolina had one "sack" in meaningful minutes but it was overturned by a facemask. The Heels will need to get better at rushing the QB in conference play if they have postseason aspirations outside of Shreveport-esque places.
The Run Defense Needs Some Work:
The run defense is still sneakily not great. Carolina allowed an average of 5.63 yards per carry this week, and while some of that is due to a few long runs, the lack of pressure upfield is really being felt in the run game. The Heels are giving up four or five yards routinely on runs because their defensive line fails to both get into the backfield and to occupy more than one blocker on these plays. The linebackers and safeties are being forced to come up and make plays which is not an ideal way to operate a run defense. Against faster backs the Heels are especially at risk. Against bruisers the rest of the defense is both reacting fast enough and the linemen are occasionally slowing them down enough to keep the Heels from giving up too many yards. This game saw a continuation of that trend as Josh Ferguson--the faster of the two Illini backs--had 133 yards on 22 carries for a 6 yard average. The slower back Ke'Shawn Vaughn was much less effective with 13 carries for 51 yards (3.9 average).
The tackling on backs also needs to improve but some of that is due to who is doing the tackling. You expect most defensive backs to miss a fair share of tackles on running backs because the backs typically have momentum on their side and the defenders have to try to force the runner back towards the middle of the field where they have linebackers and linemen as help. The defensive line needs to get better at stopping fast running backs or Carolina will continue to get gashed on the ground.