CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – North Carolina’s bid for its first 2-0 ACC start since 1997 comes against a blitz-happy Wake Forest team that ranks 15th nationally in total defense.
The Demon Deacons are allowing 296.0 yards per game and holding opponents to 27.8 percent third-down conversion rate (15th) in their 3-3 start. Opponents are averaging 13.2 third-down attempts per game, which translates to average of 3.7 conversions.
The primary reason for Wake Forest’s defensive success through the first half of the season is its variety of blitzes.
“Part of the problems they create are all of the blitzing that they do,” UNC head coach Larry Fedora said on Monday. “It’s not just one or two blitzes.”
Demon Deacons defensive coordinator Mike Elko has a long track record of producing quality defenses dating back to his time at Bowling Green, where he led the Falcons to a pair of top-10 national rankings in both scoring defense and total defense.
“They blitz more than anybody we’ve played,” Fedora said. “They blitz quite a bit. They blitz a lot on normal down and distances, which causes problems in the run game, which puts you behind the chains. We’ll have to work extremely hard to make sure we stay ahead of the chains in everything we do.”
Fedora said Wake Forest uses a multitude of blitzes out of various fronts, ranging from three down linemen to a bear package, to attack opposing offenses.
Very few defensive approaches have slowed the Tar Heels in 2015. UNC ranks 17th in scoring offense (38.6) and 23rd nationally in total offense (471.0 ypg), due in large part to a 51 percent conversion rate on third down (7th nationally).
Given Fedora’s offensive scheme based in taking what the defense provides, blitzing the Tar Heels can be a dangerous proposition as run/pass options are available on most plays. Few things are more helpful to a quarterback than a defense that shows its hand before the snap, according to UNC quarterback Marquise Williams.
“Once you know where the defense is coming from, you know where they are weak at,” Williams said. “And when we get the tempo going, there’s going to be times when they’re not going to be able to get that blitz off. They’re going to have to come from depth and we’re already down the field with it. I love it when teams blitz.”
UNC secured its victory over Georgia Tech on Oct. 3 with a 27-yard touchdown run by Williams against a blitz. The Yellow Jackets lined up in a bear front (all five offensive linemen covered) and blitzed a safety up the middle. The Tar Heels were prepared for the blitz, running an option play to the right side to create a 2-on-1 situation for Georgia Tech defensive end KeShun Freeman (see play breakdown below).
“We’ve been working on the speed option, and we knew that the contain guy had to get me or the running back, so I just gave him a little fake and the rest is history,” Williams said.
Wake Forest’s best chance for an upset at Kenan Stadium on Saturday night is an attacking, opportunistic defense that limits UNC’s explosiveness (7.3 yards per play; 8th nationally). Fortunately for the Tar Heels, they won’t have to be perfect.
The Demon Deacons rank 117th in scoring offense (19.7), placing the onus on the visiting team to stop UNC more often than not.