Preview: North Carolina Tar Heels at Florida State Seminoles

Nigel Bradham celebrates a tackle last weekend. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Tomorrow the North Carolina Tar Heels roll into Tallahassee to face the Florida State Seminoles.  Carolina sits at 5-3 (2-2 in conference).  The 'Noles are at 6-2 (4-1 in conference).  I have to say that this is the most difficult preview I have had to write to date, because of all the NCAA and Academic casualties at North Carolina.  Kickoff is at 3:30, expect cold temperatures and clear skies.

Inside, you'll find

  • Game Recaps from seven UNC games
  • Personnel breakdown
  • Injury/ Suspension report
  • Strategy
  • Prediction

Let's start with a review of UNC to date:  

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Unc-clemson_non-garbage

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Unc-_miami_non_garbage

What I take from these is that UNC really had a shot to be an incredible team this year (like National Champion good) but blew that.  It is still a good team, however, and things might be looking up for UNC.  

Injury/ Suspension/ Dismissal report  (Starters in bold, key reserves in italics, all others ignored)

North Carolina Florida State
TE Zac Pianalto WR Jarmon Fortson 
FB Devon Ramsey OG David Spurlock
RB Ryan Houston OG Bryan Stork
WR Greg Little OG Blake Snider
DE Robert Quinn DT Moses McCray
DT Marvin Austin LB Nigel Carr 
DE Michael McAdoo  
CB Charles Brown

As we covered yesterday, this is the most complete UNC has been all season.  Florida State is reasonably healthy, with the exception of the guard spot.  FSU is down to its fourth right guard as Bryan Stork is now out.

UNC Offense v. FSU Defense

UNC has the 37th-rated F/+ Offense, while Florida State has the 40th-rated F/+ Defense. I tend to think these are much more accurate than the rating of UNC's defense, which you will see in a minute.  I say that because most of UNC's rating was amassed with only minimal damage from the suspended players.  Only Greg Little has missed significant time.  

Offensively, UNC is led by offensive coordinator John Shoop.  Shoop played football at Sewanee and built a pretty substantial resume as a coach in the NFL.  Shoop spent 12 years in the pro game and served as the offensive coordinator for both the Chicago Bears (2000-2003) and the Oakland Raiders (2005-2006).  While his teams' offensive performances may not have been too impressive with the Bears and Raiders, the experience surely is.  Shoop is a guy who demands execution and can be conservative with his playcalling (if you have not seen much of him at UNC, just think back to the early '00's Bears teams). 

Shoop is a disciple from the Joe Pendry (Bama) and Gary Crowton (LSU) school of offensive thought. That means he's conservative by nature and completely irrational at times; especially on third downs when there's a great distance to go. He's a pro style guy through and through but he is not a risk taker or a coordinator that is known for surprising defenses. His philosophy is to out execute your defense, take what you give him and not put his players in a position to make mistakes.

Shoop lives on 21, 12 and 11 personnel (2 tights, I, and 1-back) as well as the rare empty set that ALWAYS includes a tight end. He runs the ball when it is working but is quick to abandon the run in favor of his patented short passing game. Shoop takes about three shots a game deep, normally off of play action, after he has lulled you to sleep with some generally predictable play calling.

Carolina's run game is decent, but not spectacular.  This is a big offensive line, and I would rate it as above average in the run game.  UNC likes to run a lot of power (very pro-style) and after seeing NC State handle FSU's defensive line last week, I would expect UNC to attempt to do the same, particularly considering its receiving tight end is out. That means more of the bigger blocking tight end.  Running back White is a good back but he is not a game changer.  

Clemson stayed in a 4-3 when UNC went to 11 personnel, and FSU's linebackers are better so I expect FSU to do the same if UNC elects to do that.

Carolina's receivers are no joke.  They are really talented and I expect at least two of 83 Dwight Jones (6-4, 220, Jr.), 3 Joshua Adams (6-4, 200, Fr.*), 88 Erik Highsmith (6-3, 185, So.), and 87 Jheranie Boyd (6-2, 190, So.) to play in the NFL.  This is probably the most physically talented group of receivers FSU has faced this year, outside of Miami, and it is probably better than Miami's considering it is better coached.  North Carolina's offense probably cannot perform well enough to beat FSU unless its receivers have a big game.  

So UNC has a powerful, inconsistent offensive line, doesn't threaten the middle of the field, and has some serious receivers and a QB who can get them the ball but often prefers to check down.  What's the game plan?  

FSU will likely play a good bit of cover 2 in this game and force UNC to threaten the middle of the field given that its tight end is out.  But FSU also needs to defend the run out of this look so FSU will need to make sure to stem down late to show different looks while sneaking safeties Moody and Parks down into the box.  

If FSU can win on first down, I think this game presents an excellent opportunity to bring the zone blitz.  Senior QB TJ Yates is not a bad QB for the 'Heels, but he is not particularly mobile.  Carolina's response to the blitz is to check down and it is missing its stud tight end.  If Yates wants to throw the ball underneath to his backs and backup tight ends, FSU should let him.  

I think FSU can limit this run game, but not shut it down.  Carolina's receivers will make some plays, but won't tear this defense up.  I think UNC will run 64 plays for 336 yards (5.25) per play.  

 

UNC Defense v. FSU Offense

UNC has the 50th-rated F/+ Defense while FSU has the 24th-rated F/+ Offense.  I will tell you that while UNC's defense has played as the 50th-best in the country, it is now much better than that.  Why?  UNC amassed that rating while it was missing a ton of key defensive players.  Now most of those starters have returned from serving their suspensions.

North Carolina will, like Miami, utilize the old Jimmy Johnson 4-3 scheme.  If you haven't done it already, do yourself a favor and read up on the 4-3 Over that both UNC and Miami, FL utilize.  UNC and Miami are similar defensively in many ways.  Like Miami, don't expect the 'Heels to be too aggressive defensively.  They will attempt to put pressure on FSU via their front four.  You will also see a good bit of zone coverage this weekend.

Base coverage for the Heels is the standard quarters, Cover-4 look.  They sprinkle in some Cover-2 and Cover-3 and very rarely the Heels will show some Cover-1. There is a lot of shell coverage and there is a hybrid pattern-read and spot drop mentality. Corners are taught to jump the short routes (as they did last year when FSU burned them deep on a stop-n-go for 98 yards) while safeties are tutored to get to their drops before reading the quarterback's eyes and more importantly, shoulders. The scheme has worked and now UNC's secondary is getting very good again with three of four defensive backs back in the lineup.  

Sizes Of The Front Sevens Florida State Will Face
  Sam OU BYU WF UVA UM BC NCST UNC CLEM MD UF
DL 270 267 295 255 275 285 251 260 245 275 255 255
DL 285 301 307 240 270 293 295 289 275 310 295 307
DL 280 284 261 285 275 305 309 297 305 315 285 302
DL/LB 245 251 239 235 265 251 257 259 260 260 275 250
LB 212 240 232 215 215 227 238 239 230 215 230 226
LB 245 225 225 240 225 240 235 231 235 230 250 238
LB 220 232 225 225 230 220 215 224 230 220 235 223
 Total 1757 1800 1784 1695 1755 1821 1800 1799 1780 1825 1825 1801

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is not an enormous front, but it is not tiny either.  

UNC's defensive line is no better than what NC State had, though its linebackers are all NFL guys.  It's not shocking that Butch Davis would again have great linebackers just like he did at Miami.  These guys are very good.  They are good in coverage, good against the run, and when they blitz, they are excellent blitzers.  The secondary is extremely talented as well.  Williams might be the best safety in the country, while Search and Burney will both play in the league as well.  It's also the best UNC has been this year, health wise, as UNC rested several key guys last week.  

I expect FSU to try to do what it does well, and that's take what the opponent gives it and exploit that weakness.  I don't know how well the offensive line will perform given the lack of continuity with its fourth right guard of the year.  I don't know how well the receivers will respond after having a poor couple of weeks.  But I expect FSU to have good offensive balance, return to having few offensive penalties, move the ball, have a few nice drives against UNC, have at least one big play, and score on a short field.  72 plays for 410 yards sounds right to me.  

I also expect FSU to have a special teams advantage in this game as it has the better coverage teams, better kicker, and better punt return team.  I'll be watching FSU's kick return team.

Prediction:  UNC- 64 plays/ 336 Yards, FSU- 72 Plays/ 410 yards.  

Chance of winning: 75% (I see FSU winning 3 out of 4 games in this scenario)

Florida State Seminoles vs North Carolina Tar Heels Highlights - 10/22/09 (via pbysh)

InTheBleachers and ShakinTheSouthland contributed to this preview and we thank our blogging friends.

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