CHARLOTTE, N.C. – After an initial season based upon a philosophy of simplification, Gene Chizik is finally ready to add more schematic elements to North Carolina’s defense.
UNC installed its base defense three times before last season’s opener against South Carolina, taking a methodical approach that refused to leave any player in doubt as to his responsibilities. New teaching drills were explained on film before being introduced on the practice field, and then were critiqued on film after practice to ensure understanding and relay how the specific drill translated to actual game situations.
The result was a surprisingly bare bones, yet incredibly effective defensive scheme that carved off 14.5 points per game from the previous season – tops nationally – and helped UNC to its first-ever ACC Championship Game appearance.
The simplicity came at a cost. Against elite offensive teams such as Clemson and Baylor, there were not enough calls on the play sheet to slow down the onslaught. And focusing on taking away the explosive plays, UNC was gashed on the ground, allowing 247.4 rushing yards per game (121st nationally).
“We were playing two deep the majority of the year because that was our base,” Larry Fedora told reporters at the ACC Kickoff media event on Thursday, “so very seldom were we getting another safety in the box. Ninety percent of the teams you play are going to get another safety in the box to help stop the run. You can't cover all the gaps if you don't.
“So we knew what we had, we knew what we were dealing with, but we wanted to stay as basic as possible for our players. And it helped us be successful last year, no doubt about it.”
If Chizik’s first season in Chapel Hill was built upon basic defensive schematics, his second season began during spring ball with an emphasis on understanding opposing offenses to allow for a more expansive set of defensive calls and adjustments.
“Gene and the defensive staff know we've got to expand our package, and we will,” Fedora said. “And we have. So you will see some different things defensively from us.”
While there were not any sweeping changes in spring ball, according to senior cornerback Des Lawrence, the defense mixed and matched coverages and blitzes to give first-year starter Mitch Trubisky different types of challenges.
“We’re never going to be the same,” Lawrence said. “We’re going to give different looks and [Chizik] is going to make sure he can put people in a position to make plays, more plays than we did last year. I expect a lot of different looks and schemes this year. Don’t know what yet. He’s the guru, so we’re just going to wait until he draws it up.”
While defensive football is a game of reaction, an increased level of awareness and anticipation promotes proactive aggression, which was missing at times for the UNC defense in 2015. That will likely not be the case this fall.