Postgame Chalkboard: Setting Up the Screen

Amazing how different things look from a few short weeks ago. As the level of competition has decreased over the past few weeks, North Carolina has demonstrated that it was never a bad football team, despite the 1-5 start.

Virginia, however, is not a good football team, and the Heels did what should be expected against a bad team—they blew them out. Presuming a win against Old Dominion, Carolina needs one more conference win (at Pittsburgh or in the home finale against Duke) to become bowl eligible, an important goal for a program emerging from a previous bowl ban.

The UNC offense finally had a productive day on the ground, averaging 4.9 yards on 41 carries, including a season-long 41-yard run by Romar Morris, as the offense averaged just under 6 yards per carry. It was the defense that carried the day, though, holding Virginia to an anemic 3.81 yards per play, the best overall defensive outing on the year for the Heels.

Setting Up the Screen

We recently looked at how Carolina used a wrinkle in its bread and butter bubble screen/outside zone package to score in the red zone against Boston College. On that play, A-Back Ryan Switzer went in motion for his usual bubble screen, only to have the receivers usually responsible for blocking run pass routes, one of which resulted in an easy score.

This week, UNC twice used another wrinkle in the same series to burn Virginia with screen passes to the tailback, most notably for a backbreaking score after the Virginia coaching staff inexplicably chose to accept a penalty deep in the red zone rather than forcing fourth down and a likely field goal attempt. This screen play is a part of Carolina's base package, serving as a counter against an overaggressive defense set to take away one of the Heels' most common plays.

On this play, the A-Back again goes in motion with the usual bubble screen blocking from the two receivers. This gets the secondary moving in the direction of the bubble screen while also staying aware of the possibility of those receivers releasing downfield. The play, however, is designed to go against the grain, releasing the offensive line to the weak side, countering the defensive rotation to the strong side.

This play is designed to counter Jon Tenuta's aggressive blitzing style, as the Carolina staff knows Tenuta will bring at least five on passing downs to force the quarterback to get rid of the football quickly. Sure enough, Tenuta brings the Sam (strongside linebacker) on a fire zone blitz (cover 3) against this look, effectively eliminating the backside pursuit player against this play.

Quinshad Davis (red circle) comes inside to block the weakside linebacker, while the rest of Virginia's defensive front does not recognize the screen quickly enough, allowing too much space for a relatively easy throw from Marquise Williams to Khris Francis, who could have walked into the end zone from here.

The coaching staff clearly expected exactly that blitz against this particular formation and motion based on prior film study, as Tenuta brought exactly the same fire zone against this look in a longer yardage situation earlier—getting burned by the screen for a big gain then as well.

Note that the Sam linebacker has again blitzed, with the secondary rotating into a three-deep look, while Davis stalks the weakside linebacker.

Again, there is a lot of space for Williams to make his throw, with T.J. Logan this time having two offensive linemen against one cornerback in the open field, again resulting in a big play.

It should be noted that although these were not especially difficult throws, they were courageous ones, as Williams got buried on each one, standing tall in the pocket and taking the punishment in order to produce the big play.

These calls provide another example of how good offensive coordination isn't about variation, nor is it really so much about what kind of system you run. The key is that everything fits together to form a coherent system, with good counters to take advantage of what teams will do to stop your base stuff.

These screens also illustrate the importance of knowing and countering defensive tendencies, as each instance took advantage of Tenuta's love of the fire zone in these situations. This was good preparation and execution by the Tar Heels staff and players.

Photos by J.B. Cissell

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