Extra Points Mailbag: Offense On Minds of Heels Fans
Lee Pace answers questions on play-calling, the offense and more.
Sept. 23, 2005
by Lee Pace, Extra Points
The mailbag was full once again this week with questions about play-calling, the running game and the overall ineptness of the offense in the wake of the Tar Heels' 14-5 loss to Wisconsin. Rather than address them one by one, I'll lump them all together and try to answer as many questions in one fell swoop.
There are two things going on. One I talked about at length last week - the loss of veteran, talented players at center, quarterback, fullback and tailback. The other is an excessive number of mental mistakes and stupid penalties.
In the running game, the Tar Heels sorely miss the blocking of fullback Madison Hedgecock (and even his running on occasion, as last year's NC State showed). Rikki Cook is a solid player, but he is no Hedgecock in terms of pure power and ability to steamroll an opponent. Nick Starcevic is tough and has a great future; but he's still a true freshman.
In 2004, a player like Jacque Lewis had the ability to turn a sliver of daylight into a five-yard pickup. His instincts were honed over four years of college ball. As the season progressed and he was slowed by injury, Chad Scott, another mature player, brought a burst of speed that allowed him to make the most of whatever work his blockers ahead had accomplished.
Barrington Edwards and Cooter Arnold will develop their skills with more playing time. The growing and development pains can be acute at times, however.
Saturday's problems were not a factor of the play-calling, though of course with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight there are calls Gary Tranquill and everyone else can second-guess. A large chunk of the problems were the result of mistakes that should never have happened from veteran players. For example:
Two experienced receivers lined up incorrectly on a successful pass play, resulting in a 21-yard gain coming back because of an illegal receiver penalty. QB Matt Baker didn't see the mistake pre-snap and correct the problem.
A senior tackle lined up on third-and-short in a two-point stance instead of a three-point stance and thus had no leverage in a run-blocking situation. The opponent he should have blocked made the tackle, and the Tar Heel punt team came onto the field.
Another lineman slung his man to the ground when the ball-carrier was 22 yards down the field with a nice gain.
There were far too many problems like those.
There were also several flags against the Tar Heel offense that mystified the coaching staff during the game and even more when they watched the game tape afterward. In all, 117 yards of offense were wiped off with penalties.
Tack on nearly a dozen dropped passes over two games and you have the reason the Tar Heels are averaging only 13 points a game.
I don't think the offensive story would be so dismal if Ronnie McGill hadn't suffered a freak injury in the weight room during the summer. Another freak injury last March put freshman quarterback Cameron Sexton on the shelf. A true freshman at quarterback in a reserve role is not what you'd like to have, but Jason Stanicek for one was a true freshman who had some success in games eight through 11 in 1990.
A lot has been written this week concerning N.C. State's superior football recruiting in recent years and Carolina's lack of big-time play-makers. Like many Carolina grads (1982) I think Carolina is awesome and should be an easy sell. Why doesn't Carolina attract more big-time football recruits? What must the staff do to improve recruiting results?
Rob Brink, Raleigh
That's a good question and one that many Carolina graduates ask themselves frequently. You need to understand that there are multiple universes of people who have some opinion or perception of Carolina and Chapel Hill.
To those for whom education has been taken for granted in their upbringing and family lives, Carolina is absolutely an easy sell. If a college education is part of your life path from birth, admittance to Chapel Hill is the promised land.
But many of the households which produce college football prospects have few, if any, college sheepskins hanging on their walls. Education doesn't mean as much and what might seem like the automatic lure of Carolina is gets lost in the maze of recruiting sales pitches. So it's a selling job with those prospects and parents - Carolina wins some of those and loses some as well.
Our society is also based on immediate gratification, and for many 17-year-olds, it's a question of how much are you winning now? Schools from the football-mad SEC like Florida and Tennessee and ACC rivals with tremendous recent success like Virginia Tech and Florida State will forever come into North Carolina and poach a prospect or two.
It's the job of John Bunting and his staff to recruit well enough to win consistently.
Win consistently and you recruit better ...
Recruit better and you win even more ...
Win more and you attract even better players ....
Success builds on itself - just as losing does in the opposite direction.
The problem with Carolina football for half a century or longer is that whenever it develops some momentum (late-1940s, late-1950s, early-1960s, early-1970s, late-1970s, early-1980s, all of the 1990s), something happens to knock it off its course to the consistent level of success all of believe it can enjoy.
And turning a football program around is like moving a battleship.
1) What do you make of the fact that UNC has signed over 20 recruits already? Generally speaking, the elite recruits wait until January or early February to commit. (FSU is the prime example of a school that has few commitments early and then hauls in a number of elite recruits in the last few days before signing day). Is UNC cleaning up on a second tier of recruits as opposed to waiting on some elite recruits and then losing them at the end, as has happened in several instances in recent years?
2) UNC coaches have repeatedly said this summer have valuable it is to get prospects on campus for camps in order to evaluate their athletic ability plus their character. How specifically can the coaches evaluate a prospect's character over a 3-day camp?
Chris Welch, Concord
The staff is excited about the commitments they have already. They are targeting key prospects earlier than ever, offering earlier and encouraging commitments sooner than before.
Members of the Rams Club read my analysis of Bunting & Co.'s early recruiting returns in the October issue of Tar Heel Monthly. Bunting's contract extension and the stability emanating from some 2004 success has had a major impact. The head coach in the last two years has done a better job in hiring coaches who are not only good on-field technicians but excellent recruiters as well.
I've made this point frequently the last several years, but since I get so many of the same questions each fall, I suppose it bears repeating. Bunting represented as solid a football guy as the Heels could get when they looked to replace Carl Torbush following the 2000 season. The interviews I conducted in the spring of 2001 with some three dozen former coaches, teammates and players he had coached revealed several consistencies in Bunting's DNA: His physical and mental toughness, his leadership ability, and his soundness in the Xs and Os, particularly on defense.
Carolina got a man passionate about selling Chapel Hill and the Tar Heel experience but one with zero experience organizing a staff and recruiting operation for the cut-throat world of Division 1 recruiting. Bunting has had to learn on the job, to learn from his mistakes. Fortunately, he's smart and is a quick study, and the recruiting operation is much stronger today than it was three and four years ago.
The camp experience is invaluable for making evaluations. The coaches can get to know a prospect on a personal level with unlimited contact while the prospect is on-campus for camp. They watch how the prospect interacts with other kids, how hard he plays, how much he hustles, what kind of football instincts he has. More than 80 percent of the players who have committed already for 2006 were in camp in June or July. The staff can also take its own times and measurements in various categories such as the 40-yard-dash.
There are horror stories out there of high school coaches juicing 40 times; the Tar Heels in the mid-1990s got suckered by one on a supposed blue-chip tailback. The kid arrived in Chapel Hill the following August with nothing close to his listed speed.
"You are going to make some mistakes in recruiting," says recruiting coordinator Brad Lawing. "But having a kid in camp lessens the chance of making mistakes."
My question is how confident are you in Victor Worsley replacing Doug Justice now that he is out for the season?
Michelle O'Neil, Fayetteville
Bunting was asked about Worsley, a red-shirt junior from Battleboro, earlier this week.
"Victor has a tremendous amount of tools," Bunting said. "He's a bright guy, he can be physical, but he doesn't have the experience obviously Doug has. But Doug doesn't have the speed Victor has. Victor has the ability to strike. He's been around our football program, so he knows how to practice. That's good.
"Doug has all that game experience, which allowed him to get from point A to point B. Victor's going to have to make all those fits now, and that's hard to do if you've not played a lot. Live action will be a little new to him. He got to play a lot the other night and played quite well.
"We moved Durell Mapp into the backup position, and he will get a ton of snaps in practice. I feel pretty good about those guys, but we'll wait and see."
Could you please shed some light on the status of Ronnie McGill and his injury? I can't seem to find anything on him/it. Our running game could certainly use him.
Bryan Williams, Summerville, S.C.
McGill suffered a torn left pectoral muscle in mid-June and the prognosis all along has been for a four-to-five month recovery, and that schedule has not changed. The best-case scenario for his return would be mid-October. McGill has returned to practice in a green jersey, meaning he can participate in all practice drills except for contact.
I was wondering why it seems like when we blitz, we play extremely soft coverage as supposed to getting into the WR's face and playing him really tight which I think is the more usual approach. Even if we get to the QB on a blitz quickly, it is basically an easy completion because of how soft our coverage is. Is it that we are not expecting our blitz to be effective so we play soft coverage or is it that we still play soft coverage to prevent the big play even if it means giving up easy catches for the offense?
Sam Ellis, Chapel Hill
The instances you cite might be when the Tar Heels are running a zone blitz, which they are doing more of this year. The zone blitz brings heat from three or four down linemen, one or two linebackers and sometimes a cornerback or safety, with everyone else dropping into zone coverage.
The question about press-man coverage came up last week as well. Defensive coordinator Marvin Sanders likes to play press coverage with his cornerbacks and hopes to use it more as the defense evolves. Through two games, Sanders has cited Ced Holt as being perhaps the smartest of Carolina's defensive backs and the most physical as well. Jacoby Watkins has not yet turned his game loose following a preseason muddled by vertigo.
I was at the game last week and noticed there were Badger fans on that far section on the home side near the old field house. Why do we insist on putting visiting fans on our home side? How come so many tickets are given to visitors anyway? Every year State comes to town, the stadium is half red.
Jonathan Griffin, Clinton
Conference policy is to make 4,300 tickets available to the opposing school. The Carolina Ticket Office wants to make as many tickets between the two goal lines as possible available to Carolina fans, so it divides the visiting tickets to put them in the sections at the goal line and beyond. The sections you are referring to on the south side of the stadium are Nos. 130 and 131. They are behind the goal line and were moved there from sections 102 and 103 on the north side, which are in the goal line to 20-yard-line range.
If Carolina does not sell out of season tickets, seats go on sale to the general public. That's when opposing fans step in and buy more than the 4,300 allocated to their institution. The Ticket Office does a special promotion to Rams Club and General Alumni Association members to sell tickets before they are offered to the public, but still some are always available.
The biggest problem where the State game is concerned is the generosity of Tar Heel fans to share their home tickets with Wolfpack fans - either family, friends or business associates. It's that way in basketball as well. And the favors are not returned. There will be far fewer Carolina fans in premium seats Saturday in Raleigh than there were in Kenan Stadium last fall.
Send your questions about Tar Heel football to Lee Pace at firstname.lastname@example.org . Please include your first and last names and hometown. . Individual replies are not possible because of volume of mail received, , and names of recruiting prospects and commitments cannot be published on a school-sponsored site until the national signing day in February. The Q&A column will appear each Friday during the season.