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UNC: A Conversation with InTheBleachers

Rarely do we get to do an opponent Q&A with another blogger who has a full grasp of X's and O's, but Mike Felder of is one of those few. He is a former player at UNC and blogs about the Tarheels as well as the ACC and College football in general, so we jumped on an opportunity to talk football with him. We asked him a few questions about the Tarheels this weekend, and we hope you find the discussion enjoyable. He is a member here and if you have any questions for him about UNC, feel free to ask.

We watched LSU/UNC and were both impressed by how (offensive coordinator) John Shoop attacked the LSU defense, but LSU manhandled the UNC run game, what has been your biggest problem with running the ball thus far?

ITB: A lot of shuffling of the offensive line early and the suspension of both Shaun Draughn and Ryan Houston have truly hurt our running game. We've used a couple different lineups with the front five and for the moment it appears that the James Hurst, Jonathan Cooper, Cam Holland, Alan Pelc and Mike Ingersoll line has seen the most success, granted it was against an overmatched ECU team.  We tried Cooper at the center to get Travis Bond into the lineup at guard but Cooper's had issues with the snap as well as getting to his assignments after the snap so Cam Holland moved back into the rotation and Bond moved to the bench. On the left side we're prototypical; Hurst and Cooper are legitimate NFL frames while on the right side Pelc is our most polished lineman and Ingersoll is technically sound.
As the line has been sorting itself out so too has the running back position. Draughn and Houston missed time early and that meant the Heels were scrambling to fill those positions with the duties falling to speedster and special teams ace Johnny White. White started out as a running back as a freshman but has been moved to wide receiver, defensive back and back to running back with hopes of getting his 4.4 speed on the field. White has problems with field vision and hitting the hole and up until last week this was still the case. Draughn knocked some rust off against the Scarlet Knights and started to run strong as the ECU game wore on, with most of his success coming late.

 Can you describe (and feel free to get technical) what Shoops philosophy is? What sets does UNC use most and how do they like to work the defense?

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 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.

21, 12, 11 stands for the numbers of TEs and RBs on the field. 11= 1 back, 1 TE, for example.

UNC's problem under Butch Davis (on the field at least) has been the inability to score consistently. Most of that we would attribute to lack of athletes, but what has been T.J. Yates' biggest difficulty as the QB? What defenses give him the biggest problem?

The biggest issue (with TJ) has been staying upright and in the game. He's suffered a torn labrum, concussions and a broken ankle that have all effected his play to varying degrees. TJ's got his name all over the UNC record books and while from a glance he seemed to be the root of UNC's problems, folks often ignore the inexperience along the line and in the receiving corps. Think Clemson's 2008 offensive line coupled with this season's receiving corps and you've got the idea of what UNC's offense was like in 2009. That being said, TJ has compounded the issue with some of his decision making and it appears that both the OL, WR and decision making issues are under control this year.
Pressure with your front four. That is the biggest problem TJ will have. Not just because of the linemen attacking him in the pocket but also because with UNC's reliance on the short passing game. 7 defenders in coverage makes completing hitches and curls to the TE more difficult.

How has Shoop preferred to attack blitz schemes? Play-action passing or allowing his QB to check to slants and crossing routes?

Shoop is a check down guy. TJ will always have a safety valve; normally the RB, HB or TE hooking up underneath to help him avoid the sack. The play action that UNC utilizes is more to produce deep passing results than to slow down the defensive rush.

Indeed, UNC's TEs have caught a ton of balls so far this season. I would expect them to hit him on a few when we send a LB.

Tell us about NC's defensive scheme, we know its 4-3 Over and Stack-based. How often are you in those fronts, and do you play many different fronts like say, Alabama?

Butch Davis is from the same school of football as guys like Tommy Tuberville, Jimmy Johnson and new Miami coach Randy Shannon. They swear by the 4-3 Over front and very rarely does the look change. Outside of Nickel and Dime packages the Heels do not deviate from the 4-3 Over look and Sam and Will align accordingly based largely on passing strength. While teams like Alabama and Florida have made multiple fronts popular in recent years, Davis and (Defensive Coordinator Everett) Withers stick to their bread and butter, relying on players to execute a basic scheme to perfection as opposed to attempting to create confusion up front.

Do you stunt the Linemen often? What type of blitzes does Withers prefer (Fire Zone? Man? what coverage?)

A season ago the Heels made some use of the U and T-E games (stunts) because of the experience of guys like Marvin Austin, EJ Wilson, Cam Thomas and Robert Quinn. With new starters up front, the use of stunts and games has truly been limited because of the lack of experience and the desire to keep it simple for the guys.
The same can be said for the blitz packages, perhaps even moreso. Over the recent seasons we've seen the use of both man and zone dogs from this staff and, like the stunts, their prevalence is greatly reduced. Not only does the youth upfront hinder that aspect but our secondaries inexperience also created an instance where dialing up pressures has been frowned upon.
Butch Davis, given the current circumstances and in general, isn't much for blitzing. He prefers to get pressure with his front four and play coverage in the back, allowing his playmakers to make plays.

Bruce Carter has been the most disruptive player over the last few seasons but his TFL numbers and sacks are more the product of his athleticism than of the Heels dialing up pressures.

We would call the UNC defensive scheme pretty vanilla ourselves too actually.  They do not blitz nearly as often as we do, and most of the pressure comes solely from the front 4, similar to Miami.

Any team that uses just the down 4 to get pressure uses several rush games, or stunts with the linemen. One DL is a penetrator, in that he charges into a gap playing run first and pass second, but in pass situations it essentially looks like they have switched lanes. The other is a Looper, who comes around the penetrator in a Twist.

To explain what he is saying, a T-E stunt is between the Tackle and End. This is a stunt by a DE usually aligned in a 5 technique (off the OT's shoulder) then he works laterally to cover Weak A gap. He steps around the DT getting upfield to break the pocket, and the DT charges into the OT's earhole, ripping outside and upfield. A U-game is similar.

Talk about why UNC has been able to mold 3 outstanding Linebackers under Davis.

The Heels will tell you we've got four outstanding linebacker prospects, not just three. Quan Sturdivant and Bruce Carter are the two everyone has heard of but Kevin Reddick and Zach Brown are quality ball players as well. Reddick is the lone "pure breed" linebacker of the bunch, a kid who was a stand out high school backer and his skills have translated and improved at the college level. Brown, like Sturdivant and Carter, is a tremendous athlete. Sturdivant and Carter were high school quarterbacks that Davis saw potential in and taught them to play linebacker. Zach Brown is a kid that ran a 10.67 100m and 21.52 200m, played running back and linebacker in high school, who Davis is teaching to play the position as Carter's replacement in the coming years.

Interesting, since we can barely find one quality LB.

What coverage is your base? Does UNC pattern read or spot drop?

Base coverage for the Heels is the standard quarters, Cover-4 look. We 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 while safeties are tutored to get to their drops before reading the quarterback's eyes and more importantly, shoulders. The scheme has worked as the Heels, even with our inexperience in the secondary, have broken up some passes, shut down ECU's passing attack and picked off some footballs.

UNC will have most of that quality secondary back from the NCAA madness this weekend.

Cover 4/Quarters is a typical coverage used when teams pattern-read, and nearly everyone who runs alot of C4 does pattern recognition. For those who haven't read our pattern-read articles, and don't know, pattern recognition is basically that you teach your DBs the routes that the opponent likes to run so you can play a tigher zone coverage (that Clemson does, called matchup zone) instead of picking a spot to drop to and standing there waiting (called spot drop, like Vic Koenning's scheme).

C4 is a more run-aggressive coverage, in that it keeps the Safeties a little closer to the line of scrimmage, but they present a 2-high shell often, and most of the time to a layperson C4 will actually look just like C2. Its pretty hard to tell the difference unless you know what to look for, and in many cases C4 turns into C2 anyway. Thats why we have not done any Cover 4 articles here at STS.

How does the UNC defense differs based on player availability.  Obviously, the defense that LSU saw may be quite different than the defense UNC shows later in the year based on NCAA decisions.  How do these losses effect overall strategy moving forward and what will this defense look like if it ever gets back to full strength?

The overall philosophy of the defense doesn't change much. As I mentioned Davis is conservative in terms of play calling; he allows his playmakers to make plays and gives his athletes the freedom to run without needing to think about a complex scheme. We have just got our two starting safeties back into the fold so I expect to see a bit more disguising of coverages as five of the back seven are fully operational.
I doubt that this defense will ever be back to full strength and that is a shame. With guys like Marvin Austin, Robert Quinn, Kendrick Burney and Charles Brown rated relatively high on most folks big boards this unit could have been special.

Even though I dislike UNC personally, like most Clemson fans, I am a defensive guy and I really would've liked to see a full-strength UNC defense play the ACC schedule this year.

Finally, what is the average UNC fans' take on the John Blake fiasco and what do you think is going to come down from the NCAA on it?

The average UNC fans' take on the John Blake fiasco is one of shock and largely denial and embarrassment. For a long time a school that placed itself above the rest of the ACC and college football world in general is now hanging out down in the weeds of an NCAA investigation just like the rest. Folks have gone so far as to say "I'd rather be 0-12 then go through this" and "We should re-hire John Bunting" as reaction to the scandal.
Personally I think those people are morons, naive, and above all else liars. Moronic and Naive because this idea that any one school is above another is absolutely ridiculous. We all play in the same pools and to make folks resent you for a "holier than thou" attitude is just asking for extra dirt to be shoveled on your grave. Liars is more from personal experience; I've played on bad UNC football teams. Those folks making the bombastic claims weren't there in 2003-2006 when we were getting our teeth kicked in and if we go back to those days I doubt they'll show up to "root for a team that's clean and 0-12."

As for the actual sanctions, I'm torn here. I know the NCAA has been coming down hard on folks, most specifically USC and Dez Bryant in the last year or so, but I can't truly get a bead on what our punishment will be. For the academic issues I suspect something less than what Florida State received for their Music Class Scandal. As for the extra benefit situation I think it falls somewhere between USC and Alabama most likely. USC because of not just magnitude but handling of  the situation. While it appears UNC is more widespread, the school has had two things happen in their favor; catching the culprits while they are in school and being able to punish said perpetrators AND working with, not against the NCAA in gathering evidence, something USC was adamantly against.

There will be scholarship reductions, I don't expect a bowl ban but that's a possibility, vacating our 2009 season and probation; all fairly standard. While some schools (read football schools) will generally grin and bear it when it comes to punishment and then push to get right back up to speed, I have questions about how this situation tests UNC's commitment to the football program. If Mack Brown's pay increase of 1997 forced the school into a decade of cheap hires, bargain basement recruiting, and low win totals, it will be interesting to see what a full fledged big boy football scandal does to scare the administration out of the shark tank that is Win Big of Go Home College Football.

Couldn't agree more there. My own take is that UNC is going to get a hammer because of the extra benefits. For some reason I get the feeling that the usually-impotent NCAA is on a warpath and out to nail lots of schools.