The Whole Nine Yards

In this weekly feature, IC's football guru Buck Sanders conducts an in-depth discussion on the state of the Tar Heels with former UNC quarterback Jason Stanicek.

Buck: Some wins just give you more bang for your buck. Notre Dame wasn't a ranked team, but beating them on national television in an exciting game, which amply displayed a large, enthusiastic crowd at Kenan Stadium ... could UNC have gotten much more out of this win?

Jason: No, anytime you can beat Notre Dame at home on national television and display your university, stadium and fans, it's priceless. I guess the only thing is that everyone would have finished the game healthy. Brandon Tate's injury is so unfortunate for many reasons. It's unfortunate for him personally, for our team, and selfishly for me. I will not be able to watch him in Carolina Blue anymore.

Buck: In Davis' postgame comments, he made sure he made the point, "We're not where we want to be." His demeanor during questions about whether he thought UNC would be where it is today suggested that maybe even he is slightly surprised about "where UNC is" right now. Many writers have suggested that the Tar Heels are somewhat "ahead of schedule." Is there a danger that UNC fans have begun to get the notion that the football program isn't as far along as its record suggests? How can Davis and the staff walk that line between building enthusiasm for the program and keeping expectations within reason?

Jason: It all depends what the expectations were. I think if you go back to before the season started, I think everybody hoped and/or expected to make a bowl, any bowl. We are 5-1 now, should be 6-0, and that's great, but I don't think expectations should change for this season, this team. The fact of the matter is we still are a young team and typically young teams can be at times inconsistent. I think we have made progress, but I don't think we have played our best game yet, so there is room for improvement.

Buck: This week, Jason, some of our readers have sent in some thoughtful questions for you to address. Early in the game, Charlie Weis went to a no-huddle, empty-backfield, "spread" offense set. One of our readers wants to know if you believe the spread offense is a passing fad or a permanent paradigm shift for college offensive coordinators?

Jason: There is a difference between no huddle, empty backfield set and the "spread" offense. When you think of the spread offense, think of what Texas ran with Vince Young, or West Virginia under Rich Rodriguez. Notre Dame did not have Clausen running the option out of the shotgun and reading the defensive end on running plays to see if he should run the ball or give it to the running back. Notre Dame did install a no huddle, empty set offense, but employed a pro style passing attack/offense.

So I think it's neither. I think some coaches will continue to use it, but overall like anything else, offensive coordinators may take principles from various offensive schemes and implement them based on the personnel they have to get the most out of their offense.

Buck: As a follow-up, the readers ask if you agree with Butch Davis' preference for a pro-style approach? Ironically enough, I thought, Davis referred to that no-huddle, empty backfield approach as something often seen from the New England Patriots and Tom Brady. I think the lines about what a pro-style offense is these days is getting blurred by what offensive coordinators are doing at that level these days.

Jason: Yes I do. The fact of the matter is, if you have aspirations of playing in the NFL at any position, where are you going to get the most benefit for 4-5 years? I think a school that employs a pro style offense and defense would be more beneficial for players and would help them make the jump more easily to the NFL. Coach Davis is correct in his comment, but the empty backfield, no huddle they utilize has pro schemes for passing and running. You don't see Tom Brady running the option out of the shotgun.

Buck: This next reader question has to do with recruiting. North Carolina has a verbal commitment from Bryn Renner, a quarterback who is very mobile. They are recruiting another quarterback, Kevin Newsome, who has a style similar to Renner's. A reader wants to know, from a former player's perspective who has been through this process, if a staff pursues a player at a position where there's already a verbal commitment, does it pose a danger of losing the player who is verbally committed - in this case, Renner? I would think it would depend on the individual player, wouldn't it?

Jason: It would depend on that player. From my perspective if a high school player de-committed solely as a result of potential competition at his position in his class, then I wouldn't want him on the team. If they do not want to or if they are scared to compete to earn the job, then that's a problem. The way I looked at it was, no matter where I went I would have to compete with somebody to earn the job. I came to Carolina because I loved the school, the players and coaches, and I didn't care who else was going there at my position.

Buck: A reader uses the illustration of Calvin Johnson as a player whose skills may have been under-utilized in college. He wants to know if John Shoop is adequately using the skills of North Carolina's wide receiver corps? Given the fact that Hakeem Nicks is on track to break virtually every UNC passing record this year, I'd say he hasn't done too badly with that. Is Shoop maximizing the potential of UNC receivers? Your thoughts?

Jason: I would say yes. I think it may have taken some time for all the coaches to get a good idea of what they had in each player and what they could and couldn't do. I don't know what else he can do with Hakeem Nicks. I say this jokingly, but maybe throw the ball to him every play. He is just an outstanding football player.

Buck: Okay, let's talk about the "Charlottesville Curse." North Carolina hasn't won in Charlottesville since November 18, 1981. You were on some of the many UNC teams that have gone to Virginia with some hope and came back with hurt feelings. In 1991, the Heels lost 14-9, and in 1993, came up short again, 17-10. Was "The Curse" discussed even back then? UNC this weekend lost a couple of key weapons in their offense to injury, including their most explosive player in Brandon Tate. Virginia has won two games in a row, after it looked like their season was completely in the tank. The longer this streak has grown, the more believable it gets. Are most athletes superstitious, at least to a point? Does it really affect their play?

Jason: I was hoping I wouldn't have to talk about it. The '93, '94 game and the '96 game are ones that just kill me still, but Virginia had some good teams. No, it was not discussed amongst the team. Athletes are superstitious, but not about things like this. There isn't a player on the team that is thinking 'How can we win?' since we haven't won since 81.

Buck: North Carolina has now intercepted 14 passes and after going +5 against Notre Dame in this category now leads the nation in turnover margin. Virginia, in contrast, is 100th nationally in turnover margin and its starting quarterback, Marc Verica, has thrown seven interceptions in five games. Is the Heels best chance to end "The Charlottesville Curse" to win the turnover battle by a substantial margin? Turnovers sometimes seem to be almost random occurrences – is this something UNC can count on, or do they need another plan? If not the turnover battle, what do you see as the keys to success against Virginia this weekend?

Jason: We have to win the turnover battle - period. We have been doing that all year, and that has resulted in five wins. We need to keep that streak going in order to win in Chapel Hill or Charlottesville. I don't know if you can count on it, but when they present themselves, you have to take advantage of it. We need to stop the run and force them into predictable situations -- 3rd and long situations are ideal. If we can do that, we'll have a great chance of creating turnovers.

Special teams will be huge in terms of winning the field position battle. If we can make UVa consistently go 70 and 80 yards for points, that will be difficult for them to do. Offensively, we need to run the ball well again. UVa's 3-4 defense is not something you see every week, so it will be important for Cam to prepare well this week and be as mentally prepared as he can be. If you not used to seeing it regularly it is a little harder to recognize underneath zones and blitzes.

Got a topic or question you want discussed in next week's "The Whole Nine Yards"? Email us.

Jason Stanicek ('91-94) wore the #9 uniform for the Tar Heels. He broke a number of UNC records during his career and now stands No. 3 in school history for total offense (5,497) and passing yards (4,683), and No. 2 for career completions (372). Jason, who resides in Raleigh with his family, is the Vice President and Financial Advisor at CAPTRUST and can be found in the stands at Kenan Stadium on gamedays.

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