Butch Davis Pre-Practice
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* After early season struggles, North Carolina’s rushing attack is now clicking on all cylinders following a two-game stretch in which the Tar Heels have totaled 419 rushing yards on 83 carries, good for a 5.0 yards-per-carry average. But success in any offensive endeavor is reliant upon discovering an opposing defense’s weakness and executing effectively against that problem area.
Duke ranks sixth in the ACC in run defense (132.6 yards per game) and has held three opponents to under 100 rushing yards this season, including Virginia (89 yards on 28 carries) and Maryland (67 yards on 31 carries) (2.2 avg.). The leading force behind those statistics is the Blue Devils’ defensive line, headlined by fifth-year senior Vince Oghobaase (6-foot-5, 305 lbs).
“They’re big, they’re athletic and they’re fast,” Davis said. “Florida State was probably not as big – just physically on the hoof – as Virginia Tech and Duke are. So we’ve got to find some things that we feel like we can create the matchups that we want.”
* If Duke quarterback Thad Lewis (188-of-296, 2,315, 15 TD, 4 INT) and his ACC-leading passing offense (325.1) isn’t impressive enough, the fact that David Cutcliffe’s squad is averaging nearly a four-minute differential in time of possession should present the Tar Heels with plenty of nightmares this week. The last thing North Carolina wants on Saturday is for Lewis to have extra time to carve up its defense, so will chewing up the clock be an emphasis for John Shoop’s offense?
“It certainly is a point of conversation,” Davis said. “But you’ve got to be very, very careful about how you orchestrate time management to the detriment of our own football team. There are teams where you would like to say, ‘Let’s speed it up, let’s go fast,’ but maybe that isn’t the best thing for young inexperienced football players. Do you need to huddle? Do you need to go at the line of scrimmage? So there are a lot of factors that go into it.
“But I think ball control and just time of possession and how long of drives that you’re able to put together at any time against anybody is productive in order to keep the other team’s offense off the field.”
* Following the dreadful offensive performance in the 16-3 loss to Virginia on Oct. 3, Davis and his staff elected to simplify the offense to improve execution. Even though Jonathan Cooper, Lowell Dyer and Zack Pianalto have returned to the starting lineup, there are no plans to reinstall any part of the early-season offensive schemes.
“We’re not very complicated,” Davis said. “We’re probably utilizing 50-60 percent of what we were able to do last year, just because we had a bunch of experienced offensive linemen that had played a lot of college football and three wide receivers that had basically been starting for three years.
“So you could be a little bit more creative with personnel groupings, formations, motions and shifts, and you have to do some of that. You can’t just go out there and be ridiculously plain vanilla. But you have to walk a fine line in how much we’re going to push these kids, and every time earlier in the year when we tried to push them to the next level and expected them to do a little bit more, it didn’t work out very well.”
* When Virginia Tech’s Ryan Williams fumbled at his own 24 with 2:02 left to set up Casey Barth’s game-winning field goal last Thursday night in Blacksburg, free safety Deunta Williams recovered the ball and earned immediate praise from media and fans alike. But the attention quickly turned to red-shirt sophomore defensive tackle Tydreke Powell, who stripped Williams as he made his way across the line of scrimmage.
“He’s truly grown into an unbelievably valuable member of our defensive line,” Davis said. “Every single game that he plays in, you can see that he’s making strides. He’s improving, he’s gaining more confidence [and] he’s a good athlete... It was a very critical and important play that he made the other night.”
*Here’s an example of how critical experienced depth can be for a football program. In North Carolina’s 30-27 loss to Florida State on Oct. 22, defensive back Jordan Hemby was knocked out of the game as UNC held a commanding lead. North Carolina was then forced to replace Hemby with true freshman Gene Robinson.
Seminole quarterback Christian Ponder did what all good quarterbacks do and attacked the rookie defensive back, connecting with Taiwan Easterling for a six-yard touchdown pass on 2nd-and-goal that cut North Carolina’s lead to 24-13 in the third quarter.
Hemby did not play against Virginia Tech, but is expected to be available against Duke on Saturday.
“He’s doing good,” Davis said. “He’s back to practice. He suffered a little bit of a mild concussion a week ago and he wasn’t available for the game against Virginia Tech, but he’s back at practice and he’s ready to go.”
The red-shirt senior has played significant snaps at cornerback this season, in addition to his roles in North Carolina’s nickel and dime packages. Having a player of his experience level back for Duke’s air assault is a critical development for UNC’s secondary.
“There’s no question about it,” Davis said. “You want all hands on deck for this one.”
* Lowell Dyer sat out Wednesday’s practice due to illness. A UNC official confirmed that the senior center does not have the H1N1 virus.