Jason: Postgame Chalkboard from UNC-Miami

Inside Carolina Xs and Os expert Jason Staples reports from the film room with his takeaways from UNC's loss at Miami.

More often than not, the team that wins on the line of scrimmage is the team that wins the game. Spread offenses can reduce the importance of a dominant line somewhat, but it’s still difficult to win games when you get manhandled up front. That is what happened to North Carolina in Saturday’s game against Miami, which dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.

Offensively, even after accounting for the 55 yards lost on two poor punt snaps and 34 yards lost on seven sacks, the Tar Heels only managed 95 rushing yards on 23 carries (4.13 ypc) despite Miami never having to add extra players to the box to stop the run.

Defensively it was much worse, as Miami rushed for 295 yards on 49 carries (6.0 ypc) including sack yardage. The Carolina defensive front was repeatedly gashed in the running game to the point that it was unclear why Miami would ever feel the need to throw the football.

Miami’s huge offensive line and 260-pound tight ends bullied the Carolina defensive front, while gap control problems and poor angles continued to plague the defense as the Miami backs ran wild. Despite an outstanding strip sack by Carolina end Mikey Bart returned for a score by Cayson Collins in the first half, the outcome of this game was never in doubt as the Heels were simply dominated from start to finish.

Defensive Personnel on the Goal Line

Perhaps the single most telling play of the game was on a key fourth and goal from inside the one yard line on Miami’s first drive of the game. Miami predictably sent out the beef for this play, going with a two-tight I-formation package with Duke Johnson in the backfield.

North Carolina countered with a nickel package, putting five defensive backs on the field against Miami’s jumbo personnel. On short yardage. From inside the one yard line.

Carolina lined 5-11, 185-pound safety Sam Smiley across from from 6-5, 316-pound offensive tackle Jon Feliciano and 5-11, 200-pound ram Donnie Miles across from 6-4, 258-pound tight end Clive Walford with predictable results, as Duke Johnson walked into the end zone untouched.

I have watched this play repeatedly and have given up trying to figure out what the defense was supposed to be doing here, as they were a player short on the left side in addition to being absurdly outweighed at the point of attack. This led to one of the easiest goal line touchdowns I’ve seen since the Green Bay Packers intentionally allowed Terrell Davis of the Denver Broncos to score in Super Bowl XXXII. The backside view illustrates just how little chance Smiley and Miles had in this situation.

I would love to be able to explain the rationale here, but I honestly have no idea why Carolina didn’t put an extra two defensive linemen on the field against Miami’s jumbo personnel. I don’t care how physical a player your safety is, he’s not winning at the point of attack against a 315-pound senior offensive tackle.

Poor Tackling, Angles, and Gap Integrity

Tackling has been an issue all year for the Heels, and poor angles and poor gap control fundamentals are two major reasons for these problems. It’s much more difficult for a defender to make a tackle when he isn’t in proper position to do so. Something as simple as the tackler getting his head across the body of the ball carrier can be the difference between a physical, punishing tackle and a missed arm tackle.

If a linebacker or safety misses his key and hits his gap or alley with the wrong shoulder, it can be the difference between a two-yard gain and ninety. Below, we look at several problems in gap control on a routine power play.

This is a basic power call from an overloaded TE+H-back set (22 personnel) with the backside guard pulling to lead through the hole (blue line). The right tackle combo-blocks the defensive tackle with the tight end before continuing to the first inside linebacker who shows, the H-Back handles the defensive end, and the fullback has a kick-out block on the outside contain player (not pictured).

Defensively, the playside defensive tackle has to occupy the offensive tackle as much as possible, preventing him from getting a free release to the second level. He absolutely cannot allow the tight end to get inside him. The playside linebacker (Jeff Schoettmer) should key on the guard/tackle combo into the backfield. If the guard or tackle takes a run step, Schoettmer needs to step forward and take that gap as soon as he recognizes it. Travis Hughes is initially responsible for the backside A gap (other side of the center) and keys on the center/guard. But as soon as he sees the guard pull, he needs to scrape and meet the guard or back in the hole on the front side of the play.

By this frame everything has gone wrong. Both defensive tackles are getting manhandled, with the front side offensive tackle getting nearly a free release to the linebackers while the tight ends are able to kick out both the defensive tackle and defensive end on that side.

Schoettmer is already a step behind here, as he needs recognize the tackle getting upfield and hit that gap immediately—he has outside support, so he should be coming downhill hard at this point. Hughes is in the proper position mirroring the pulling guard and starting to come downhill. Unfortunately for him, because the front side tackle got such a free release, it won’t matter much.

The right side has been mashed here. Schoettmer (circled) is two yards out of position by this point, following the fullback outside the tight ends instead of meeting the tackle or pulling guard in the hole (he should be closer to where the red line ends). You can see how easy this should be from here—the tackle can seal Hughes, while the guard will actually be looking for someone to block and RB Gus Edwards goes untouched through the first six yards or so. Only a tremendous effort play by Hughes keeps this from being an even bigger play.

This play was a microcosm of the entire day for the defense, which was mashed at the point of attack, missed run fits, ran around blocks, and took poor angles all day. The result was a shockingly routine 295 rushing yards for the Hurricanes.

Inability to Run, Sacks, and Pressure

Offensively, I don’t care what anyone says, Williams was clearly not healthy coming into this game. The fact that not a single designed QB run was called through the first eight drives of the game (Williams’s 10-yard TD on the 9th drive was the only called QB run until the fourth quarter) provides all the information needed on that point.

If Williams isn’t a threat in the running game, this offense is running on two cylinders, and that was evident again on Saturday. Miami never needed to commit extra defenders to the running game, meaning tighter windows in downfield coverage and the ability to smother Carolina’s horizontal passing attack.

Seven sacks also didn’t help matters. Sacks aren’t always the fault of the offensive line, so I went through all seven to determine responsibility on each one. Here’s what I found:

Sack 1 (13:00 in 1st): Williams’s fault. The corner blitz is his responsibility in this protection; he never got his head turned to see it and failed to get the ball to a wide open Switzer in the flat (the hot route against that blitz).

Sack 2 (5:20 in 1st): Williams’s fault. Almost a carbon copy of the first blitz, though this time the hot route was a quick out to the WR lined up across from the blitzer. Miami seems to have noted a tendency here (Williams not getting his head turned to see the back side) and is taking advantage of it.

Sack 3 (11:30 in 3rd): This is on T.J. Logan, whose effort in pass protection was beyond poor. Denzel Perryman barely had to sidestep Logan’s weak cut block attempt on his way to Williams.

Sack 4 (9:07 in 3rd): Ouch. This one is on John Ferranto, who got flat whipped on this play. Nothing Williams can do here, and this is the kind of sack that shakes a QB’s confidence.

Sack 5 (3:01 in 3rd): Nobody in particular. Coverage was good, protection was initially fine, and Williams started to take off before getting stripped (that part is on MW).

Sack 6 (13:19 in 4th): This one is on Landon Turner, who got whipped by the Hurricane defensive tackle.

Sack 7 (6:45 in 4th): Coverage sack. Williams may have been able to get rid of this, but it was tight.

The bottom line from what I can see is that without Williams as a running threat, Miami had little reason to honor UNC’s running game and was able to suffocate everything else the Heels wanted to do. This is still not an offense that can be one-dimensional and win by throwing the football. They absolutely have to run the football better to have any chance to compete against better defenses.

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