UNC head coach Larry Fedora has harped on San Diego State head coach Rocky Long’s unique defensive scheme during all of his media availabilities this week.
“Rocky does a great job; [he’s] very innovative on defense and always has been,” Fedora told reporters during his ACC teleconference on Wednesday. “He has a very unique style of defense, and his guys adapt to it very well. There are a lot of movements, a lot of confusion, a lot of chaos created for a young offensive line and so that definitely is a concern for us.”
UNC’s offense has just two seniors on its two-deep – tight ends Jack Tabb and Eric Albright – and its offensive line starts two juniors and three sophomores. Twelve different offensive linemen, including three freshmen, played in the Tar Heels’ season-opening win over Liberty on Saturday.
UNC offensive line coach Chris Kapilovic told reporters on Tuesday that he gave his group a ‘B’ grade in the first half, but that fatigue and penalties dropped the grade in the second half.
“I just want to see us become more consistent up front with basically the fundamentals and the scheme that we're running,” Fedora said of his offensive line. “I just want to see them improve a little bit each week. We don't have to be end of the season at our best right now. But we do need to see improvement and the style of defense that San Diego State runs makes it very difficult for a young offensive line.”
Long, who runs a 3-3-5 scheme, talked down the schemes that Fedora had talked up due in large part to inexperience on the defensive side of the ball. Eight defenders made their first career start in SDSU’s 38-7 win over Northern Arizona on Saturday.
"We have to stay simple,” Long said on Tuesday. “We made a lot of mistakes in last week's game, so we're not going to change anything that would allow us to disguise things any more than we did in the first game. We're not nearly as multiple as we were last year with all those experienced guys. We don't do as many unorthodox things as we did last year. I say that, and on defense we're still a lot different than most teams.”
Long added that he had hoped his team would have played better defensively, given its simplified scheme.
Even so, UNC has to be prepared for a variety of different looks. Long’s defense has been solid against the run in recent years – the Aztecs held opponents to under 135 rushing yards per game in 2012-13 – and its extra defensive back allows for blitzes galore.
“Their strength is that they are very quick, they play extremely hard, and they swarm to the ball,” Kapilovic said. “If you let it get in your head and you start getting hesitant, they’re going to get a lot of negative plays. We have to do a great job of being mentally disciplined and not letting that paralysis through analysis set in.”
The blitzing, along with alternating man and zone coverages, present will present a unique challenge for the Tar Heels. Fedora’s offense is built on controlling the tempo, which typically adheres to a hectic pace. But will the Aztecs’ pre-snap confusion force UNC assistant head coach for offense Seth Littrell to adjust his speed pedal?
“We’re going to do what we do,” UNC quarterbacks coach Keith Heckendorf said. “Offensive football is more about us than the team we’re playing. We can try and change our offense every week and adjust to the people we’re playing, or we can play up-tempo and force them to adjust to us. The tempo is to our advantage… it’s kind of a cat and mouse game a little bit.”
Quarterback Marquise Williams echoed those sentiments, saying he believed UNC will be proactive in setting the pace.
“It’s not going to affect us; we’re going to affect them,” Williams said. “We’ve got to get the tempo going. Those guy run a lot of blitzes, and that’s a good football team. Once we get the tempo going, they’re going to have to go to a base defense. I kind of look at it like that.
“We’re going to tempo those guys and have some fun, and go out and play Carolina football.”
Preparing for Chaos
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