UNC has installed a shield punt protection formation, which consists of seven players on the line of scrimmage, three players occupying the middle shield seven yards back and then the punter in his standard spot 15 yards behind the ball. The players on the line of scrimmage are split roughly three yards wide, putting them closer to – or already in – their assigned coverage lanes.
This new formation is beneficial for several reasons, which we'll attempt to showcase in this photo breakdown.
This first punt is from the Idaho game. Notice the splits along the line of scrimmage, as well as the three-man middle shield in front of punter Thomas Hibbard.
Once the ball is snapped, Idaho's edge rushers attempt to get to Hibbard, but notice how wide they are from the hash mark. The wide splits along the LOS help to push the edge rushers out of the play.
More evidence of how much ground the edge rushers have to make up in this shot. Hibbard's already in the standard drop-and-kick motion and Idaho's edge guys are still 10 yards away.
This next punt took place on Saturday against Virginia Tech. The Hokies have blocked 129 kicks during Frank Beamer's tenure, so it's no surprise that they would stack the line and test out UNC's new formation.
Virginia Tech sends nine guys after the punt. Take notice of the positioning of the middle shield and Hibbard.
The player on the left of the middle shield took his stance on the left side of the hash mark, but the three-man blocking unit has already shifted several yards to the right. Hibbard received the snap on the hash mark, but he's started a rugby-style rollout to his right.
By shifting to the right, UNC has effectively taken the right side of Virginia Tech's punt rush out of the play while the middle shield offers enough protection against the left side. By utilizing both the standard drop-and-kick (shown in the first punt sequence) and the rugby-style punt, UNC can mix up its launch points to confuse the punt block unit.
This punt also took place against Virginia Tech and it represents our first look at this specific punt formation this season. Note the two gunners split out wide right at the line of scrimmage. That leaves UNC with an uneven line -- three blockers to the left of the center and only one to his right. Virginia Tech, as expected, overloads its left side with a clear look at the middle shield.
The Hokies send three off the left side, while UNC's gunners have a 2-to-1 advantage at the top of the screen to get down the field and contain the return. Note how the middle shield has already shifted to the right to pick Virginia Tech's unblocked rushers.
The shield handles the punt block rush, allowing Hibbard to boom a 50-yard punt out of the rugby-style kick. Notice how the Tar Heels heading downfield are already migrating into their assignment lanes. Michael Holmes returned this punt seven yards.
Photos by J.B. Cissell