Without a doubt, the Tar Heel defense has dramatically improved over the 2012 version, holding the Yellow Jackets to 40 fewer points and giving up nearly 2.5 fewer yards per play than last year (5.15 vs. 7.44).
Hats off to the Carolina defensive staff and players, who executed a great plan against a very good Georgia Tech offense, limiting Tech’s inside run game with outstanding play from the front seven while also tackling well on the outside.
Unfortunately, the Carolina offense has not been as good as expected so far, only averaging 15 points in two games against BCS conference competition. The main problems so far have been up front, where the loss of three offensive linemen to the NFL has proven a bigger loss than many expected.
Nevertheless, I think this Carolina team is about where most reasonable fans and pundits expected for this year. An 8- or 9-win season is still well within reach, as two of the three best teams on Carolina’s schedule are now in the rearview mirror. Georgia Tech, however, is a little better than expected and will likely win the Coastal Division.
Despite the offense’s struggles over the last two and a half quarters, the first portion of the game included some outstanding examples of just how deadly Larry Fedora’s offense can be when executed well. Below, we’ll look at one of those examples: Eric Ebron’s first-quarter touchdown.
Carolina lines up in a 3x1 look with the back to the strong side. This is a common look for the Heels, with the base package of an inside zone read combined with a bubble or smoke screen on the outside ( discussed here) being the most common first-down play from this look.
On this occasion, however, Carolina will fake the zone/smoke screen, with the two blocking receivers releasing into a “switch” concept where the inside receiver crosses behind the outside receiver on a wheel route, with the receivers effectively switching places after the snap, and a “sluggo” (slant-and-go) to the No. 2 receiver (Ebron).
As you can see from the above picture, Georgia Tech plays “quarters” to the strong side, with two deep defenders and one short defender, while maintaining a cover-two look to the single-receiver side, effectively double teaming Quinshad Davis. If Tech had rotated the backside safety farther over and left Davis one-on-one on the short side, the ball would have been thrown to that side on a fade.
After the snap, you can see that the Georgia Tech safety has already bitten hard on the smoke screen action, setting up the sluggo right over his head. The outside corner has stayed disciplined, reading his keys and waiting for the ball to be released before coming up against the screen.
Renner’s first look after the smoke screen will be to the corner. If the corner bites on the fake, Renner will immediately throw the wheel. Ebron’s sluggo route is the second option here, and Renner’s eyes immediately find the safety, who as you can see below, has lost his leverage against the deep threat by first biting on the smoke screen and now trying to jump the slant route.
Ebron runs a beautiful route, pushing his weight inside just enough to get the safety to bite and then getting vertical, making this an easy decision for Renner, who simply throws over the head of the safety, making sure to keep the ball inside the deep corner. Ebron makes a spectacular one-handed catch, and it’s six points just the way it was designed.
This type of play-action double-move concept requires more pass protection than most of Carolina’s offense, but the line did an excellent job keeping Renner clean here. As the game wore on, however, that part of things broke down a bit, with Georgia Tech able to manufacture enough pressure to minimize the downfield passing threat.
The other problem I see with Carolina’s offense right now is the lack of explosive plays. It’s very difficult to score a lot of points in today’s game without chunk plays, and Carolina has simply not had enough explosive plays on the year. Unfortunately, the one huge gain on Saturday was (rightly) called back due to a holding penalty, but Ryan Switzer displayed some big-play ability that is badly needed on this offense right now.
That’s definitely something to watch over the course of the rest of the year—it is imperative that the Tar Heel offense not be limited to short and intermediate gains. You’ve got to have explosive plays to be an explosive offense.