'Nole Your Enemy: The North Carolina Tar Heel Offense

TJ Yates drops back to pass for the North Carolina Tar Heels.

We continue our " 'Nole Your Enemy" Series with The North Carolina Tar Heels, who the 'Noles will play on a possibly Cold Thursday Night, October 22nd.  Making this game even tougher is North Carolina's schedule (the Heels play Virginia and Georgia Southern before they host the 'Noles).  Thursday night games tip overwhelmingly in favor of the home team.   We started with South Florida (OffenseDefense) and continued with BYU's Offense and Defense.  Yesterday we previewed BC's Offense and the Boston College Defense.

As always, we look at how good a team was last year, and then examine who left, who is back, and who should step up. 

First, we'll take a look at Brian Fremeau's Opponent Adjusted Offensive Efficiency.  Let's compare UNC to other ACC teams.  NOTE:  these metrics are advanced.  The methodology can be found in the links.  They don't include numbers after a game is a blowout.  It's about competitive possessions only.

Fei_opponent_adjusted_efficiency-_acc_teams_medium

 

By this measure they were the ACC's 4th best offense (about 30th Nationally).  It's worth noting that slightly higher ranked opponents gave the FSU defense fits (GTech averaging 8.4 yards per snap before their QB went down with an ankle injury, NCST did similar before FSU's offense held the ball for 38 minutes).  And offenses ranked lower did similar, which is scary.

How about Bill Connelley's S&P+ measure (Fremeau and Connelley are the two foremost experts in measuring football performance.)

Acc_offense_close_s_p__medium

When AOE and S&P+ agree, it makes things much easier to analyze because I don't have to discuss why the metrics differ.  While AOE has UNC at about 30th, S&P+ calls them 40th, but they both call UNC the 4th best ACC offense.  

What about in ACC games only, where the style of play is very conservative? 

Offensive_close_s_p__acc_games_only_medium

In ACC games, UNC was distinctly in that middle group.  I find the segmentation here pretty fascinating, and wow was Wake Forest bad on offense. 

What about UNC's passing game?

Acc_offense_passing_close_s_p__medium

Okay, wow.  UNC had far and away the best passing game in the ACC.  I'm not feigning surprise there.  I knew they were good, but that is tremendous.  What's also curious is the bunching in the middle.  Everyone seems to be pretty close except for VTech.  In ACC games only, the numbers were similar (sorry, no graph).

How about UNC's run game?

Acc_rushing_offense_close_s_p__medium

Okay, so that's not all that impressive.  they were slightly worse in conference play, but not much, so no graph is needed.

I think it's pretty safe to say that UNC's offense was between the 30th and 40th best in the Nation.

UNC's attack is pretty pro-style, in that they aren't a spread team.  They do run some shotgun, but for the most part, they will run with 2 wideouts, one running back, one tight end, and then either a fullback, tight end, or extra wide receiver.  Their run game doesn't have much misdirection, though they will occasionally run a counter or two.  They do, however, do a great job running the bootleg and consistently punish teams with over pursuing defensive ends (that's FSU, folks).  Their offensive coordinator is Jon Shoop, who has NFL experience.  Let's get to their personnel...

Quarterback

UNC's QB is TJ Yates.  He started 12 games in 2007, and started 6 last year, missing some time due to injury.  He's now a Junior.  Here's a look at what he did last season: 

Att Comp Pct. Yards Yards/Att TD Int Rating
McNeese St. 26 15 58 221 8.5 2 1 147
@ Rutgers 22 14 64 221 10 3 0 193
15 Virginia Tech 18 11 61 181 10.1 1 0 164
22 Georgia Tech 3 1 33 28 9.3 0 0 112
North Carolina St. 22 10 46 116 5.3 0 1 81
@ Duke 19 15 79 190 10 3 1 205
+ 23 West Virginia 25 15 60 211 8.4 2 1 149
Totals 135 81 60 1168 8.7 11 4 154

 

In any case, Yates is a decent player who doesn't get a lot of publicity.  He's not much of a running threat, though there are some whispers that UNC will try to run him a bit more as he's better conditioned this year and might have dropped some weight. I would like to note that he probably will not have a 3-1 TD/INT ratio this year, given his past. They did visit Texas this off-season to pick up some concepts.  I'm sure some of that was the zone read.  It might also be some of this:  Texas Passing Game

He doesn't have much in the way of a backup, and Yates has had injury problems.  If he goes down, look out.  We'll revisit that as the game approaches. 

Offensive Line

While the quarterback is more important than any one lineman, the offensive line as a whole is probably more important than quarterback play, and certainly more important than the play of the wide receivers or running backs.  That's why we analyze them next.

The Tarheels have a rock at Left Tackle in Kyle Jolly.  While he's not a special player, he is pretty consistent.  The 6'6" 300lb Senior has started 25 career games at left tackle, and even played a bit as a freshman.   At Right Tackle, the Heels have a new face in 6'5" 300lb Junior Mike Ingersoll.  He played 78 snaps last year, though didn't start any games.  He does have this position almost by default now, as his competition for the job, Carl Gaskins is down with an injury for the season.  I think Jolly is pretty good, but this group doesn't have much depth.

At Right Guard, Junior Alan Pelc started 9 games last year at guard.  At 6'6" 325 he's a decent run blocker and does an okay job maintaining his ground in pass protection.  Pelc won UNC's newcomer of the year award last season and many are impressed with him.  At left Guard, the Heels have Redshirt freshman Jonathan Cooper.  The 6'3"295lb first time starter (obviously) got reps at guard in the spring after Senior Aaron Stahl decided to forgo his senior year and pursue his graduate degree.  At Center is the steady 6'4" 290lb Senior Lowell Dyer.  Dyer has started 14 games over two seasons.  He's your typical savy Senior center. 

The key for UNC's line will be health.  With just 58 career starts among them (slightly below average nationally), and no proven depth, the Heels line really needs to stay healthy.  They were pretty decent in pass protection last year, and considering UNC's desire to throw deep a lot, their sacks allowed weren't terrible.  They were sometimes very bad running the ball, however, and they averaged more than 4 yards per carry only once against an ACC team (GTech). 

Wide Receivers/ Tight Ends

Okay, now to the pass catchers. 

Last year UNC had a great crop of pass catchers.  Not good, not decent, but great.  This year?  We shall see.  UNC lost 72% of the team's receptions, 81 % of its receiving yards and 92% percent of its receiving touchdowns.

Gone is 1st round draft pick Hakeem Nicks.  6'4" 220lbs.  Nicks caught 68 passes for 1222 yards (18 yards per catch!), and 12 touchdowns.  He left as a Junior, something UNC didn't expect when the season started.  Say goodbye to Brandon Tate, who caught 16 balls for 376 yards (24 yards per catch!), and was also an incredible punt and kick returner (All-American lock before the injury).  He's also gone to the NFL.  Brooks Foster was a gutty senior who caught 30 balls for 334 yards, which is only an 11 yard average, but he was good on 3rd downs.  The Heels are also without Tight End Richard Quinn who caught 8 balls for 97 yards and Cooter Arnold who grabbed 7 for 87. 

But UNC has done a great job recruiting under Butch Davis.  A really nice job.  Davis knows talent and he has picked up at UNC right where he left of at Miami.  6'3" 220lb Junior Greg Little is very talented and has played both running back and wide receiver in his career at UNC.  He improved a lot in spring, and should go from a poor route runner to at least an average route runner.  They also feature Dwight Jones, a 6'4" 220lb Sophomore, who isn't a blazer but does have good hands.  He was the #13 ranked wide receiver recruit in 2008.  When the Heels go 3-wide, they will likely use Freshman Josh Adams, a highly touted 6'4" 200lb recruit who made it in for the spring.

As noted above, the Heels often use two tight ends (or an H-Back, as FSU does).  They are absolutely giddy about 6'4" 250lb Junior Zach Pianalto.  He was banged up a lot last year but impressed in his 7 games.  I am not sure who their 2nd tight end will be, and whoever it is, he didn't get much playing time last year.

Fun Fact:  NC has 6 wideouts who are 6'3+ and 200lbs+.  I expect this group to be talented but to be quite inconsistent at least early on.

Running Backs

Teams aren't going to respect UNC's wide receivers, and that will make things even tougher for their running game, which wasn't very good last season (see graph above).  UNC has a lot of running backs.  They are led by Shaun Draughn, a 6'0" 205lb Junior.  He was a good back last year, and that was his first year playing running back (was a defensive player).  Draughn rushed 198 times for 865 yards, and did a great job of not losing yards (only lost 32 on almost 200 carries).  

UNC also has a huge group of big backs, which I have trouble keeping straight.  Junior Ryan Houston is talented and 6'2" 250lbs, and Jamal Womble is 5'10" 225lbs.  They also have huge fullback Bobby Rome, a 5'11" 245lb Senior.  Let's classify their backs in the "good but not great" category, but they do have tremendous depth.

Final Thoughts:

We classify UNC as a pro-style offense.  The question in my mind is just how pro-style will they be?  Why does this matter?  Here:

FSU's Defense Total Off. Rushing Passing
Opponent Type PPG Plays Yds Per Play No Net YPC TFL's Att Comp Yds TD Int Sacks Dropbacks/ Sacks QB Rating
Pro-Style  19 65 270 4.1 31 83 2.6 10 34 17 187 1.2 1.2 4.3 8.8 100
Decidedly Not Pro-Style 28 60 385 6.4 39 235 6.0 7 20 11 151 1.5 0.5 0.8 28 138

 

So there are mixed signals here.  UNC's wideouts are really inexperienced but also pretty talented.  Their offensive line is unproven.  Will teams respect their run?  Can UNC run the football?  If UNC can run the ball and teams creep up to stop their run game, they can create one on one matchups for their wide receivers, which could really help them.  I suspect UNC's wideouts will struggle against zone coverages, as they fail to sit down in the voids in the zone.  How much will UNC run their quarterback?  His past suggests he isn't very mobile, but maybe he has had that special off-season and is now running the ball?  The more UNC uses a fullback, the better for FSU.  I suspect they will use a lot of two tight end, two wide receiver sets, and will try to win this game by pounding the football and throwing off play-action, specifically bootlegs.  Still, this offense should take a step back from where they were last year.  I expect them to again be in the top half of the country, but a return to the top Quarter of college football teams is unlikely.  They simply lost too much talent (2 or 3 offensive line starters) and 4 pass catchers who went to the NFL combine.  The key, as usual, will be to stop their run game and their big backs without over-committing the safeties.  If UNC wants to line up in the I-formation, FSU should be able to handle them.  The evolution of the UNC offense will be something I watch with great interest this year.  Here's hoping they stay very "pro-style."

 

 

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