"You've got to get number one on the ground somehow, someway."
That was how Carolina defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta summed up the challenge ahead of the Tar Heels when they travel to Death Valley this Saturday to face the Clemson Tigers.
"Number One" is Heisman Trophy candidate, Woodrow Dantzler. Getting Danztler on the ground was not an easy assignment for Georgia Tech. Dantzler rushed for 164 yards and passed for 254 more while leading the Tigers to a 47-44 overtime win in Atlanta.
NC State found it even more difficult to get Dantzler on the turf. Number one rushed for 184 yards, while passing for 333 more.
Two weeks, 935 yards. Number one wasn't on the ground often enough for Georgia Tech or NC State.
The Tar Heels recognize the challenge ahead. "This week is going to be one of the biggest tests we've had all year," says linebacker David Thornton. "With Woody Dantzler as a running back/quarterback-type. From what I have seen on tape, he is such an impressive player he has definitely gotten me studying the game a little bit more."
One of the many problems facing any defense trying to prepare to play Clemson's no-huddle spread offense, is the difficulty trying to simulate it in practice, and in particular simulate the skills of number one.
"You really can't simulate him to a ‘T', Thornton says, "We know that Woody is going to be a lot faster than what our scout team is giving us."
Tenuta realizes the special difficulties of trying to reproduce Dantzler's effectiveness in practice, "As elusive as he is, as strong as he is, he may not be the biggest guy in the world, but boy, he can run just like a tailback running the ball and he throws as good as any quarterback."
The Tar Heels' preparation is particularly hard on the scout team, "I thought our scout team today did a heckuva job, said Tenuta, " We tried to get as many people involved in it, to get the hurry-up aspect of it and keep the high tempo going. We ran our scout team ragged today just trying to get the best possible look they give us."
It may take more than a stout effort from the UNC defense to come away with the win. The offense will be tasked with perhaps a better way to limit to Danztler than getting on the ground – keeping him off the field.
Isaac Morford, the left guard on the offensive line, said, "I think we have done a good job in the last four wins of ball control, we've the last two games with have three or more ten-play drives, and that is huge. That keeps their offense off the field. With a team like Clemson with a guy like Dantzler, you need to keep their offense off the field a little bit more."
The offensive line had a lot thrown at it early. So much so, that the coaching staff decided to take out a lot of the complexity they were trying to install, and simplified the offensive blocking schemes for the youthful line.
"The coaches have done a great job, says Morford,"They took a little bit of the harder stuff out to begin with, then they gradually started putting it back in a little bit more and a little bit more. It has really worked well."
One particularly effective way to keep the ball away from Dantzler is to run the ball effectively on offense. Last week, the Tar Heels ran up 234 yards on the ground. It was there most successful day of the season rushing, and Morford feels that part of the Tar Heel offense has matured over the course of the season.
"They're young backs, they have had to mature along with us, and it is a new system this year," says Morford, explaining the progress of the UNC running game," It is a combination of everything, everything being new, and all of us being a little bit young, but we are all finally starting to get it I think, we are really jelling together."
"The offensive line has confidence," says Thornton, who lines up against them every week in practice, "They communicate better, their intensity level, they are excited about playing. I don't know if it is coaches, or they just stepping up coming from not having very much experience and now gaining experience – they are definitely coming together now."