CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – North Carolina will travel to Georgia Tech for its first road game of the season on Saturday. The Tar Heels prepped for the elevated noise levels of Bobby Dodd Stadium by implementing their silent count against Delaware last weekend.
“We changed our whole cadence with the quarterback in the game, so everything was silent count,” UNC head coach Larry Fedora said on Monday.
Senior right guard Landon Turner said the Bank of America crowd in UNC’s season opener against South Carolina was louder than expected, thereby leading to some communication issues up front.
As a result, UNC worked on its silent count during practice last week to address any potential problems that might arise later in the season.
“It’s not just for any specific game, it’s for the whole season,” Turner said. “Any road game, really, where things get loud, it becomes necessary.”
A silent count is often used by an offense on the road when crowd noise is cranked up. It’s a snap design that eliminates the quarterback’s voice from the equation, instead relying on a series of signals or the center’s call to handle the procedure.
It can be especially difficult for a HUNH spread offense, due to the lack of a huddle and the quarterback being set up in the shotgun five yards behind the line of scrimmage.
There are several different ways to orchestrate a silent count. Some coaches prefer to go completely silent, where it’s based on hand motions or timing off the center’s head movement. Others, including UNC, prefer to allow the center to control the cadence.
How the offense receives a play call during a silent count doesn’t change from standard operating procedure. The quarterback is still going to tell the offensive line the play, according to offensive line coach Chris Kapilovic.
Depending on the noise level, the quarterback may have to walk up to the A gaps – the spaces between the center and guards – to let the guards know the play call, and then the guards share that information with the tackles. The offensive line is the only position group that operates off verbal cadence, so the wide receivers are not affected when UNC switches to a silent count. They are always looking at the ball, and only go in motion when signaled by the quarterback.
UNC’s method of working a silent count transfers the cadence from the quarterback to junior center Lucas Crowley. While the center is responsible for the timing, the quarterback first lets him know when he’s ready for the ball by a signal, according to Kapilovic.
“The big challenge is for the center because he has to coordinate the snap and make sure he’s not saying it before he hikes it,” Turner said. “It’s really tough for him because he’s got to keep his head down when usually he’s the one ID’ing defenses. He’s got to rely more on us and that’s going to require more trust on his part.”
In UNC’s regular tempos, Crowley is still able to look up at how the defense is positioned. That changes in Fedora’s quick game approach, which operates at a blistering pace known as Indy tempo.
“I can’t make some of the calls like I would be able to in our Indy tempo because my head’s in between my legs,” Crowley said on Tuesday, “so I won’t be able to see the defense and see which way it’s moving. During that time the guards will help me out and tell me where they are while my head’s down and make my calls for me.”
Both Fedora and Kapilovic were pleased with how the offense operated under its silent count in Saturday’s 41-14 win over Delaware.
“There are always these little wrinkles,” Kapilovic said. “Any time you’re doing a bunch of motions or different things on timing, it’s really hard. When the quarterback controls it, he knows exactly when he wants it, but when the center has to do it, there are a lot of things to go into it to make sure the timing is perfect.”
Road trips to Georgia Tech, Pittsburgh, Virginia Tech and N.C. State will provide ample opportunities for UNC to further test its silent count over the final two months of the regular season.