The Tar Heels returned most of a team that went 11-1 in the regular season last year, but did lose the most important piece of that team’s offense: quarterback Marquise Williams. Williams posted over 3000 yards passing and almost 950 yards rushing in 2015, so the Heels had a lot of production to replace both in the air and on the ground.
The heir incumbent, Mitch Trubisky, was known to be no slouch himself on the ground, having been rated the sixth best dual-threat quarterback in his recruiting class by 247sports. He has good speed, having recorded a 4.60 second forty-yard dash in high school. Williams was no ordinary dual-threat quarterback, however; he ran like a running back, fearless and strong, and the UNC coaching staff designed their offense to suit his style. Trubisky, for all his strengths, doesn’t have the same physicality as a runner that Williams did, so fans were curious to see what changes, if any, the coaching staff would have implemented for 2016. After two games, we have an idea, so let’s compare the two.
The Tar Heels used Marquise Williams as a runner in various ways. They usually boiled down to three types: QB Power, Read Option, and QB Draw.
QB Power, as used here, encompasses all designed quarterback runs with no misdirection: The ball is snapped to the quarterback, who runs. It’s essentially a handoff to a running back, minus the running back. Because of this, a quarterback running this kind of offense needs to be able to take hits that a running back usually expects to take. On the plus side, though, it allows an offense to disguise its intentions well. An offensive look with an empty backfield can still be a run play, for example. Williams’ strength allowed him to make effective use of QB Power, as seen here (although he doesn’t take a big hit here):
The read option is a staple of many college offenses. The quarterback receives the snap and reads the defense. Depending on where the bigger running lane is and where the blockers are, he either gives the ball to the running back to run one way or keeps it and runs in another direction. With the combination of a very good running quarterback and a very good running back, this was deadly in the Tar Heel offense in 2015:
QB Draw uses misdirection in another way: The quarterback first steps back as if to pass while the offensive line sets up its run blocks, then takes off, as seen here:
The read option was obviously transferable, and Trubisky, after a tentative start against Georgia, has been very successful executing the read option in his last 6 quarters of play:
Trubisky also shows the strength necessary to not go down at first touch, regaining his footing long enough to get into the end zone.
QB Power and QB Draw (to a lesser extent), however, require the quarterback to run through the trenches and take significant contact, which it was unclear whether Trubisky was ready for. With this QB Draw against Illinois, the doubts were quickly erased:
Trubisky pulls out a nifty open-field spin move to escape one defender, then lowers his shoulder to finish the run, which was certainly unexpected by many Tar Heel fans. This run shows both that the coaching staff trusts their new starting quarterback to run this play and that Trubisky isn’t afraid to play physical.
QB Power, though, is asking a little too much of Trubisky. Instead, the coaches have added a few Trubisky-specific wrinkles to the offense this year. Against Georgia, they pulled this out of the bag for Trubisky’s first touchdown of the year:
The naked bootleg is so much fun to watch. The defense collapses into the middle in order to stop Elijah Hood, and Trubisky walks into the end zone. With two physical backs in Hood and Williams, tricks like this weren’t necessary because the Heels could simply pound it in. Now, there’s an element of finesse. Hopefully it isn’t overused, but little tricks like this could be very effective in the Heels’ offense as surprise plays.
Play action has been a staple of Fedora’s offense since he arrived at UNC. He establishes the run as a threat, then uses run fakes to set up his deep passing attack. It’s been pretty straightforward. This year, Fedora’s making it a little bit more nuanced, with the help of Trubisky’s sleight of hand. Not only are the Heels continuing to make liberal use of the play action run fake, but on many handoffs, Trubisky manages to freeze the defense with a play action pass fake:
It’s very possible that this is just second nature for Trubisky, as he did it several other times in the Georgia game with little payoff. In this example, though, Trubisky successfully freezes two or three weakside defenders with his pass fake, which gives T.J. Logan more open space to work with once he’s avoided the tackle in the backfield.
In conclusion, the offense hasn’t changed too much in the transition from Williams to Trubisky. The little changes that have been made to accommodate for Trubisky’s running style seem to have worked and been integrated seamlessly, and the offense should be running as smoothly as it did in 2015 in no time.
All images courtesy of GoHeelsTV via their Youtube Account UNCTarHeelsAthletics.