Opponents View: Fedora's Spread

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Larry Fedora’s up-tempo spread offense has broken 55 offensive records during its first two seasons at North Carolina. Opposing defensive players at the 2014 ACC Kickoff media event on Sunday discussed the challenges of facing UNC’s offensive scheme

This is an offense that wants to run as many plays as possible, but there is a certain method to the madness. Some people like to characterize it as a hurry-up offense first and foremost, but that label really does a disservice to the subtleties of what the UNC coaching staff is trying to do.

“I feel like they’re very good at deciding when they want to do things,” Pittsburgh cornerback Ray Vinopal said. “Their coaches are very good at choosing the correct times to speed up the game and when they want to sit back and control the tempo.”

In addition to dictating the pace of play, this offense has an element of deceptiveness that keeps defenders on their toes. The offense specializes in running multi-faceted options, throwing delayed bubble screens in the flat, and a healthy does of play-action passes, but at the root of the scheme is the speed of the skill position players.

“UNC really works the edges; it’s a true spread offense,” Duke linebacker Kelby Brown told reporters. “Their speed in their receiving corps really makes you pay attention to the flat area, and then all of a sudden their quarterback is keeping the ball.”

That speed and tempo also cause issues for defenses that are trying to substitute players for their different sub packages. Every team spends time practicing how to get guys on and off the field as fast as possible.

The issue with having to face so many sub packages, however, is that you run the risk of taking a penalty, or worse, getting burned by a communication breakdown. The other approach is to try and make as few subs as possible, and hope that your players on the field are versatile enough to handle whatever comes their way.

The latter strategy worked out well for Virginia Tech when it held North Carolina to 17 points in the Hokies’ victory last season.

“The up-tempo makes things difficult,” Hokies defensive tackle Luther Maddy said. “We try and keep the same guys on the field for the most part.”

No matter how you choose to attack the Heels, there will always need to be a constant stream of communication. If the UNC offense is going at full speed, opposing coaches need to be ready with the play, and the leaders on the field need to be able to decisively relay that information to their teammates so that there aren’t any major blown assignments that lead to big plays.

Georgia Tech has had varying levels of success against North Carolina in recent years by pairing an effective defensive with a clock-controlling offense. The Yellow Jackets held the Heels to just 20 points (after UNC had put up 50 the year before) in 2013.

The biggest reason for that performance is communication, according to linebacker Quayshawn Nealy.

“If the defense isn’t on the same page, they beat you,” Nealy said.

The communication aspect is really part of a larger theme that all of North Carolina’s opponents must confront. That theme is consistency. Some offenses are run-centric, while others love to air it out. The beauty of Fedora’s design is that it forces all 11 defenders to be totally invested in every play, because if one player takes a play off, the chances are good that they’re going to get exposed.

“With an offense like that, everybody has to be a factor,” Virginia safety Anthony Harris explained. “With that pace you have to be consistent. We feel like we played well in spurts, but with the high tempo, you need to be playing at a high level each and every play.”

The third installment of the Fed Spread takes the field in six weeks.

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