Withers, Part IV: Changing With The Times

As the conference becomes more diverse offensively, the task of ACC defensive coordinators becomes more complicated.

With the arrival of the "multi-bone" spread at Georgia Tech and the coming implementation of the spread-option at Virginia, there are two more spread offenses in the ACC than there were two years ago.

It's a growing trend in college football; one defensive coordinator Everett Withers sees continuing to grow in the coming years.

"It is going to be a challenge, because everybody has put it in their offense -- I mean everybody has, everybody has some form of it," Withers said. "Some are dabbling in it more so than others, but we have to be prepared, we have to take time this spring to work on it, but that is just what it is, just the lay of the land right now in college football."

Inside Carolina's Buck Sanders sat down with UNC defensive coordinator Everett Withers earlier this month for a one-on-one interview. This is a five-part series running all this week from that interview session.
Part I: Fitting In
Part II: Football Junkie
Part III: Prevent
Part IV: Changing With The Times
Part V: Friday
In the Meineke Car Care Bowl against West Virginia, North Carolina played with five defensive backs almost the entire game, resulting in a big day defensively for Da'Norris Searcy in a hybrid linebacker/safety role (10 tackles, two tackles-for-loss, and two sacks). Was this just a response to West Virginia in particular, or a precursor of things to come at UNC?

"I think (a hybrid linebacker role) may have broader application (than just against West Virginia)," Withers said. "If you look at the way college football is going, with the type of offenses that people are running, how many times do you see teams line up with two backs in the backfield and a tight end and run the power, run the lead? It doesn't happen very much any more.

"As big a pain as it was getting ready for West Virginia, I think that was the best team we could have played. I think our players, from the time I arrived in the spring to now, have a wealth of knowledge just learning about defending the spread and what it takes. We're not there yet, we're not even close, but that is just the way college football is going. No backs, and throwing the ball 50 or 60 times a game, but that's the nature of college football these days. It's about points, and scoring, and lighting up the scoreboard, and that's what sells tickets these days.

"If you look at West Virginia on defense, they are a 3-3-5 -- they've got five defensive backs on the field at all times. That's their base package. You look at some of the other spread offenses and look at their defenses. For them to compete against their offenses in the spring, they're probably in five defensive backs all the time."

This may mean that North Carolina won't be in the 4-3 base defense nearly as much in the coming seasons, and the typical, between-the-tackles, run-stopping middle linebacker may become an endangered species.

"If people are going to spread you out, and give you one back, give you no backs, and do all the read-option and all, then you have to be more athletic," Withers said. "You're not going to be able to stay in your base defense as much. You're going to be in five, you're going to be in six, defensive backs -- you're going to be in those types of packages. For us to be able to adapt to those types of offenses, we've got to get the Da'Norris Searcy's on the field, guys like that, who are still defensive backs, but physical enough to play close to the line of scrimmage and be hybrid-linebacker types."

It's a trend that will continue in the ACC, particularly with Virginia adopting the spread-option used by Urban Meyer at Florida. "We're probably going to see from Virginia as close to what Florida does as anybody," Withers said of the new offensive scheme in Charlottesville. Defending the spread is something North Carolina has to master, if it intends to compete nationally as well.

"It makes it a challenge in college football all across the board, not just in the ACC," Withers said. "As a college football defensive coordinator … You look at the guys out in the Big 12 this year trying to defend those guys, it's got be a nightmare to face the type of quarterbacks they faced this year and the offenses they had to face."

Did you miss Inside Carolina's series on offensive coordinator John Shoop last week? Catch up on all five segments:
Part I: Acclimation, Part II: Game Planning, Part III: Play Calling, Part IV: Strategy, Part V: QB Growth.

For much more from both Withers and Shoop, be sure to read Buck Sanders' "Offseason Report" in the March Issue of the Inside Carolina Magazine.

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