UNC averaged 5.62 yards per play in this one, barely exceeding its season average of 5.57, though the running game did show signs of life, averaging 4.0 yards per carry. The defense, on the other hand, struggled a bit against the N.C. State rushing attack early in the game, allowing 4.42 yards per carry (5.0 YPC to jumbo QB Brandon Mitchell) and 5.04 yards per play on the game. The Tar Heel secondary, however, played well for the second week in a row, forcing two interceptions and giving up no touchdowns against a limited N.C. State passing attack.
Below, we’ll look at one of the hidden key plays in the game, a play that helped UNC flip field position with the score 21-16 in the early third quarter. On second-and-nine from inside the Carolina five-yard line, offensive coordinator Blake Anderson dialed up a play-action pass that both broke tendency and flashed quarterback Bryn Renner’s arm strength.
The play call was a twist on the old “quarterback waggle” concept, with outside zone play action to the left side and Renner rolling to the right. The waggle actually derives from old Wing-T offenses but has enjoyed a bit of a resurgence in modern spread attacks, in part because it offers a mobile quarterback a run-pass option while presenting a strong downfield threat.
Typically, the receivers on the waggle will follow the quarterback’s movement across the field, with the inside receiver (or tight end) on a drag, cross, or over route with the outside receiver on a deep post, putting the backside safety in a bind. A typical waggle diagram might look something like the bottom diagram here:
Note how the receivers are always going the same direction as the quarterback’s rollout. Sometimes the roles are reversed, but the general rule is to expect receivers to cross the field in the direction of the quarterback’s movement, as it requires a very strong arm to throw across the field on a rollout.
In this case, however, the Carolina staff added a little wrinkle to the typical waggle concept, taking advantage of Renner’s arm strength with a throwback to slot receiver Sean Tapley, resulting in a safe throw with max protection coming out of the end zone. Also, instead of pulling linemen to protect the QB on the waggle, Carolina used a max-protect outside zone protection, with the backside tight end sealing the edge for the quarterback.
Thanks to solid play action and good line play, Renner has excellent protection and is able to pull up on the rollout and set his feet for a solid throw back across the formation. Even if the protection had not been so good, it’s still a safe play since Renner is already moving forward and should be able to dive forward for a yard or two while also avoiding the safety.
Renner is coached to “peek” at the post route first here just in case there’s a chance at a long TD, but this coverage takes that deep zone away, leaving the throwback to the post-corner wide open underneath.
The beauty of this particular call is that it takes advantage of typical zone rotation in the secondary, since many zone defenses are designed to rotate towards a rollout in order to better cover the spots a quarterback could most easily throw towards. But in this case, Carolina does not release a single receiver to the play side, instead throwing back across the grain of the coverage to an uncovered zone. You can see the results here:
By first releasing inside before heading to the corner route, Tapley has taken advantage of standard coverage rotation, as the entire Wolfpack secondary has been turned around while Tapley runs toward the sideline to make the catch.
This 25-yard completion allowed the Tar Heels to flip field position on this drive. Instead of potentially punting out of their own end zone and giving N.C. State terrific field position, this drive finally stalled at the 50 yard line, with N.C. State receiving the ball at its own 11 on the next drive.