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UNC Football: Virginia’s Charles Snowden goes sack-crazy against the Heels

Let’s see how the gigantic (6’7”!) linebacker got to know Sam Howell so well on Halloween night

Last Saturday’s loss to Virginia was a surprise to the college football universe. Carolina has not had an opponent handle their offensive line and limit their running game the way the Hoos did all season. Even against Florida State, the Heels managed to rush for 184 yards.

One thing my untrained eye could see very clearly was Virginia’s towering linebacker/edge rusher Charles Snowden, a player so tall (6’7”) that Virginia couldn’t find a jersey long enough to cover his stomach. I kid. If I had abs like that, I’d probably wear bare midriff shirts, too.

Snowden wrecked absolute havoc on the UNC offense, racking up 10 tackles (five solo) and four sacks, the last of which produced a fumble recovered by Virginia. That production was crucial in UVa’s upset win, but a lot of it was very fortunate, as Carolina did not pay him the attention that he demanded.

Hold you nose before watching this video, it’s not pretty:

Let’s break down each sack to see how Snowden got home, and why UNC did not do themselves any favors against the long linebacker.

1.) 1st Quarter, 7:11, 2nd & 6: Pre-snap, Snowden is lined up standing over left tackle Asim Richards, who has tight end Garrett Walston behind him. On the snap (which was nearly flung over Sam Howell’s head) Walston bumps Snowden on his right shoulder before dragging across the field, but Snowden shakes the contact and gets such a good punch on Richards’s left shoulder that he’s able to slide through inside and take three steps before putting his hands on the quarterback’s waist. Loss of five yards.

Also during the play, Dazz Newsome, motioning left to right, and Javonte Williams, on Howell’s righthand side, both release right, so Sam has no protection after his offensive line. Snowden made a great individual play but also benefited from Carolina not having a running back to pass protect on that play. If Javonte stayed home on the play (and the snap wasn’t botched), Howell has an easy throw to Walston for a short gain.

2.) 1st Quarter, 6:19, 3rd & 11: The very next play. Asim Richards is at left tackle. Javonte Williams is lined up on Howell’s lefthand side. Snowden is lined up over Richards again, split wide. At the snap, UNC’s offensive line is drawn inside by a clever twist/blitz combo. Defensive end Mandy Alonso, lined up between the left guard and center, takes a hard step to the outside, drawing Asim Richards. Simultaneously, linebacker Nick Jackson blitzes up the middle, drawing a double team from the left guard and center. This blitz commits Richards to maintain his block on Alonso, which he does perfectly. Who is missing here, though?

On the snap, Snowden takes an unnecessary stutter step to get past Richards, and almost can’t believe it when he has a direct path to the quarterback. Javonte released to the left into open grass and turned his head around before he reached the LOS, surely visualizing a 15-yard gain. Instead, he saw his quarterback getting gobbled up by Snowden again.

The back-to-back sacks forced Carolina to try a 51-yard field goal. Even though the kick was good, Carolina was cooking on the drive with huge chunk gains by Dyami Brown (19 yards) and Michael Carter (38 yards). A touchdown instead of a field goal on this drive makes up the margin of the loss. Charles Snowden absolutely killed the drive with his sacks, one with some good skill, and another that was just plum luck.

3.) 1st Quarter, 4:51, 1st & 10: Carolina lines up trips left, with Garrett Walston closest to the line. Javonte Williams is on Howell’s lefthand side and Khafre Brown is wide right. Prior to the snap, Walston motions from left to right, and Howell takes the snap right before the tight end reaches the center.

It’s an RPO, and if Sam could have this one back, he would’ve handed the ball off to Javonte, as Asim Richards and Brian Anderson open a HUGE hole on the left, and left guard Ed Montilus is in perfect position in the second level to seal off the inside linebacker. By my estimate, Javonte would gain eight yards before he breaks his first tackle.

Instead, he grabs air. Charles Snowden, who was over the right tackle, sets the edge, but once he realizes that Javonte doesn’t have the ball, he darts into the backfield to sack Howell again. Remember Walston running to the right side of the line? He doesn’t lay a finger on Snowden before running out to hit the safety five yards past the LOS. A waste of effort.

4.) 3rd Quarter, 8:34, 2nd & 6: With UNC down 14, Phil Longo is feeling froggy, and sends three wideouts on go routes. Garrett Walston, on the right side, stays home to help block. Snowden, standing over the right tackle, immediately backpedals into the flat on the snap while linebacker Zane Zandier shoots through the middle of the line on a delayed blitz.

When Snowden sees Zandier pierce the line, he stops his back peddle and starts heading downhill. Howell, instead of comfortably waiting for his go routes to gain separation, is running for his life. Zandier dives for Howell’s legs and just misses. Snowden doesn’t. This was the best sack of the bunch for Snowden, as it led to a Sam Howell fumble and Virginia recovery. Not in the highlight is what Snowden said to Sam Howell immediately afterwards:

The good news is that a lot of the decisions Carolina made with pass protection led to Snowden’s career day. Duke’s Chris Rumph is the next candidate to terrorize Sam Howell if the Heels don’t make adjustments. Look for the the running backs and tight ends to touch the edge rushers before getting into space behind as a new wrinkle in the offense. Michael Carter doesn’t get a great block on this play, but look what can happen when you give Howell just a little time: