November 13, 2013

Know Your Enemy: Tarheels

Filed under: Football,Opponent(s) — Justin @ 2:13 pm

The UNC Tarheels are heading to Pittsburgh in a matchup between two teams desperate for a win. Both need a win to continue to change the perception of their season; UNC wants to prove they’re better than their 1-5 start and Pitt is eager to grow off of the Notre Dame upset that may have been a season-changer. UNC is hot; they’ve won three straight games by an average of 21 points. Pitt has lost two of their last three, but last week’s upset suggests they may be ready to put their mid-season struggles behind them. It’s safe to say UNC and Pitt have reasons to be optimistic headed into Saturday’s contest.

On offense, UNC is heavily QB oriented with athletic sophomore Marquise Williams at the helm. Senior QB Bryn Renner is out for the rest of the season, but the offense didn’t miss a beat against Virginia with 415 total yards and 31 points (14 were scored by an interception and punt return). Williams is a prototypical mobile QB; he’ll run a lot but will struggle with accuracy and footwork (only 58% completion). He makes up for that with big plays. He’s averaging 13.1 yards per completion which is nearly two yards better than Renner.

When Williams goes to the air he has two great options. TE Eric Ebron is one of the best TEs in the country and may go to the NFL early after this season. He’s capable of putting up huge numbers against good opposition; he had 8 receptions for 199 yards and a score against Miami in a close loss. Ebron can cover the whole field and presents a matchup nightmare like any talented TE. At WR, sophomore Quinshad Davis is quietly emerging as one of the top playmakers in the ACC. He’s tied with FSU’s Rashad Greene for the top spot in receiving touchdowns (8). At 14.6 yards per reception, he’s not just catching screen passes either.

The running game, however, leaves a lot to be desired. UNC is using a four RB rotation, which should tell you right away something is amiss. Those four have combined for 203 carries, only 873 yards, and 5 touchdowns. For perspective, James Conner and Isaac Bennett have combined for 211 carries, 1020 yards and 11 touchdowns. They’re 106th in the country in rushing offense, which is a pathetic number when you have a mobile QB with 247 yards on the ground. Pitt’s numbers are comparable, but the huge amount of sack yardage, which the NCAA oddly considers rushing yards, drops the total dramatically. UNC did get the running game going against Virginia last week, but UVA appears to be a team who has completely given up on their season with seven straight losses.

It may not be entirely the fault of the RBs though. Their OL leaves a lot to be desired in pass protection as well. They’re allowing an average of 2.4 sacks per game, good for 90th out of 125 teams. 106th in rushing yards and 90th in sacks per game? Their OL may be as bad as Pitt’s has been. Like Pitt, their OL is young and still in progress. However, LT James Hurst has NFL potential.

The one thing Pitt’s defense has to be ready for is a trick play. UNC has run a WR or RB pass type play four times this season. The result? Four completions for 143 yards and three touchdowns. If UNC gets down early, they’ll open up the playbook to try and catch Pitt napping. With a mobile QB and numerous players who can complete a pass, those types of things are always a concern.

If this offense is going to work, Marquise Williams (I like typing Marquise for some reason) has to find ways to get the ball to Ebron and Davis or else their offense is doomed. They can’t run the ball and they don’t have much in the way of playmakers outside of those three. Williams has thrown an interception in both starts (4 total on the season). If the defense can fluster him and keep him contained, the Tarheels will struggle to score. If he has time and space, he has the ability to make big plays. Pressure and containment from the DL will be a huge factor and expect Aaron Donald to take advantage of an inexperienced right side of the OL.

I normally recommend a QB spy against mobile QBs, but an incredible TE like Ebron requires extra help. A 1 on 1 with a LB or S is a matchup he wins 99% of the time. If you pull a guy from coverage, that’s the guy who should be helping with Ebron. I think we’ll see a bit more zone coverage this week along with more five or six man rushes. Since the DEs are struggling to pass rush, have them play a little containment on the outside and pressure up the middle. Force Marquise Williams into quick decisions.

On defense, UNC’s 4-2-5 is rather mediocre. They’re 71st in total yards (89th rushing, 32nd passing) but better at only 54th in points (25.2 ppg). They’re sacking the QB less than twice per game and average about the same in takeaways; both of which rank on the low side of the middle of the pack. Pitt has seen the 4-2-5 already this season from Duke and it’d be a dream come true to see similar results. UNC’s is slightly different in that on top of the hybrid S/LB, they have a hybrid DE/LB who will play off in more of a 3-3-5 look at times. It’s useful because you can move him to either side to take advantage of mismatches. 

There’s a reason UNC is 89th in rushing yards allowed: one less full blown LB means there’s one less big guy in the front seven. The 4-2-5 is more common in college football lately due to the usage of spread offenses; teams are afraid of speed on the outside, so they sacrifice strength on the inside. Establishing the run will be the key to scoring. When ECU dropped 55 points on this offense earlier in the season, they did so with 200+ rushing yards on the ground. Miami, South Carolina, Boston College, and Georgia Tech all ran the ball down the Tarheels’ throat for 200+ yards as well. Three of their past four opponents had 200+ rushing yards.

The key to UNC’s recent defensive improvement has been in the passing game. In the past three games, they’ve only allowed 391 yards through the air (130 per game) along with four interceptions, five sacks, and only one touchdown  (which was in junk time by UVA’s backup QB). It hasn’t exactly hurt that BC and UVA are two of the worst passing offenses in the ACC, but results are results.

This shows how critical it will be for Tom Savage to continue to play disciplined and find the open receiver. The offense must establish the run, avoid turnovers and big mistakes, then take their shots. The running game was barely good enough against ND to force them to respect it. Once it was there, deep shots were available. Get the hybrid S/LB creeping up to the line of scrimmage and the offense’s job will get a lot easier.

There are two other important factors regarding the game. First will be penalties. UNC is 114th in the nation in penalties per game. Even in an easy victory like last week against UVA, they had 13 penalties for 102 yards. A bunch of them were stupid penalties like illegal formation and false start. UNC puts Pitt to shame when it comes to shooting themselves in the foot. Second is home field advantage. Pitt has won every game but against FSU at home. UNC is 1-3 on the road. Pitt’s offense plays a lot better at Heinz Field.

I think Pitt will scratch and claw to a close victory, 27-24. The offense likes home field and pulls off the win thanks to a huge game from James Conner, who takes advantage of the 4-2-5.

@ Reed & PofD, very good points from both of you. Yes, the “VITRIOL” will return with renewed vigor when Pitt puts it’s next loss on the board, for sure. It always amazes me, the lack of posts this site gets the week following a win, but after a loss, the naysayers all crawl out from the woodwork to spout their opinions on why Pitt sucks this week. Very perplexing?

I’ve been accused this week of going to “the dark side” myself, but to the contrary, I’m just trying to get people to understand that we must keep an even keel throughout the entire season, no matter what just happened or what lays directly ahead. One win, even against those self rightous basterds from Notre Dame does not make a season, not by a long shot. This team has the potential to have won every game on it’s schedule. We even caught FSU at the perfect time to open the season, even though FSU proved, without a doubt, that Pitt was waaaaay overmatched by the likes of Winston&Co. But we could run the table in these last three games if everything falls perfectly into place for Pitt, but we could just as easily not win another game for the balance of the season ending our season on the day after Thanksgiving. There is still so much about this team and their potential that remains a mystery.

I like where Pitt is headed, but the good things that are transpiring with the program are not obvious or directly related, just yet, in our win loss record. I’d love to see a win on Saturday, I think that it would go a long way in demonstrating this young team’s mental focus, being able to move forward, concentrating on the task at hand, next foe, rather than reminiscing on the previous week’s come from behind underdog victory over the Domers. Call me pessimistic, but I’m just not feeling it this week, PLEASE, prove me wrong Panthers and beat the frickin tar out of those Heels!

Hail to Pitt!

Comment by Dr. Tom 11.14.13 @ 12:00 pm

Speaking of our favorite pedofile, I saw on a local (Erie) newscast that there’s a nitter who is on a mission to restore the jopa statue. Problem is no one will tell him where it is. They even asked the governor if he knew where the statue is. His reply: I’m not gonna get involved in that.

Made me smile.

Comment by dinosaur 71 11.14.13 @ 12:02 pm

@ pmdH2P, two thumbs up on that from me!

Comment by Dr. Tom 11.14.13 @ 12:02 pm

@Reed 11.14.13 @ 9:01 am, you’re exactly right. Couldn’t agree more.

For those understandably concerned about the let down, I think the team realizes that with only 3 games left, and 2 being against Miami and another on the road, UNC at home is the key game. Getting bowl eligible right now, this week, is something that will make them sharp and help them focus. If this were earlier in the year I think we have a bigger concern but so close to the end with so few opportunities left, I like our chances. The coaches and players know the end is near.

I honestly don’t think UNC can beat us at home if we don’t throw an interception or fumble the ball and we don’t give up a special teams score. They score a lot of points on special teams and D. If we can avoid turnovers and play decent special teams D, UNC won’t score enough to beat us.

Comment by PittHW 11.14.13 @ 12:37 pm

That’s a lot of “ifs” PittHW! Those kind of self inflicted wounds are what has me worried for Pitt this week. No matter, I’ll still be there, once again in the stands, hollaring my butt off as usual.

Funny story, last week at the ND game was the first time that I can remember that nobody yelled my way during the game to “SIT THE HELL DOWN”! I even had one guy on the way out after the big win thank me for getting the crowd that was behind us, up off their butts to help raise the noise level during those pivitol plays late in the game. Imagine that?

Comment by Dr. Tom 11.14.13 @ 1:00 pm

I’m with PittofD … if we lose, I believe it will be more of a match-up issue than a letdown.

BTW, both back-up CBs (Howard and Coles) are out .. replaced by Pardner and Banks

I know I sound like a former coach but if we are able to run and control the clock, and not turn the ball over … we can win.

Comment by wbb 11.14.13 @ 1:22 pm

It was interesting this last weekend in that when we played ND two years ago there were lots of ND fans in my section (visitors side but the sunny side). This year not only were there less of them but there were empty seats. I am in row C and didn’t have to worry about folks standing in front of me and the folks behind me did’t complain about me standing either, they were all Pitt fans also!!!!!!!

Comment by EriePAnther 11.14.13 @ 1:23 pm

Conversely, I was in 5th deck on visitor’s side and surrounded by ND fans … amazing how quiet they were in 4th quarter.

Comment by wbb 11.14.13 @ 1:26 pm

I have a conference to attend in downtown Cleveland on Saturday at 3:30. (Who the hell does such a thing?) I plan on sneaking the game in but I think its only on ESPN Gameplan outside of PGH. Anyone know of a good sports bar in downtown Cleveland area? Hopefully I won’t get my ass kicked for wearing a Pitt polo.

Comment by AJ 11.14.13 @ 2:21 pm

AJ, West 6th .. in Warehouse district or East 6th .. near the baseball field, whatever they call it now. Places like Panini’s. Blind Pig and Bar Louie’s are located there that should carry the game

WUAB, an independent channel in Cleveland is part of the ACC network

Comment by wbb 11.14.13 @ 3:10 pm

Panini’s is actually on Huron Ave, 2 blocks up from Progressive Field .. a handful of bars in that area

Warehouse District is west side of downtown up towards the FB stadium

Comment by wbb 11.14.13 @ 3:16 pm

@AJ, While drinking in Cleveland you might not want to revisit Frankcan and Emel’s recent rants concerning Ohio St. My guess is the Buckeye faithful might not be quite as amenable to their perspective as us Blatherites.

Comment by spiritofsection22 11.14.13 @ 3:37 pm

From the Tar Heels Blog on their UVA game: UNC was “flagged 13 times for 102 yards, and two more penalties were declined. Moreover, there were all types of penalties – holding, false starts, illegal formations, ineligible men downfield (caused by a mixed-up formation), interference penalties.”

Comment by PittHW 11.14.13 @ 3:37 pm

Damn. this is not the game we want our weak DBs out there …

“BTW, both back-up CBs (Howard and Coles) are out .. replaced by Pardner and Banks

Comment by PittHW 11.14.13 @ 3:42 pm

Well stated, Dr. Tom. If history has taught us anything about Pitt football, it is this kind of a trap game Pitt usually blows.

Comment by TonyinHouston 11.14.13 @ 3:44 pm

just checked Time-Warner lineip in my area – East Cleveland. 2 ACC games showing — VT Vs MD and BC vs someone?. Pitt-UNC not on …. however, a sports bar may have a satellite hookup to it.

OSU plays Ill at noon … keep away from those A-holes, trouble is most people there probably be Buck fans

Comment by wbb 11.14.13 @ 3:47 pm

Section 120 in the lower endzone toward the visitors side. ND fans everywhere in full obnoxious mode. The guys right behind me were the dumbest most uninformed football “fans” I have ever encountered. I thoroughly enjoyed chanting Go Home Irish as loud as possible as they sulked to the exits.

Comment by Nick 11.14.13 @ 3:53 pm

Thanks WBB and Spirit of Section 22. I never considered verbal abuse from Buckeyes fans haha, I thought I would get it from Browns fans under the assumption that because I went to Pitt, I’m a Steelers fan. I’m actually a Bills fan so between Pitt and the Bills, it’s been another rough year of football.

Comment by AJ 11.14.13 @ 3:53 pm

@AJ, For about the last 10 years I have found Browns fans to be very humble. So many consecutive sorry teams has taken its toll on their spirit. With the Steelers sucking so bad they are likely be reborn. You being a Bills fan however means you likely aren’t smart enough to try to stay under the radar. Your on your own. If WBB and I are going to get in a fight in Cleveland it won’t be to bail out a Bills fan.

Comment by spiritofsection22 11.14.13 @ 4:21 pm

in 2016 the ACC bb will be in washington dc it is not NY but it is the next best thing better then

Comment by Frankcan 11.14.13 @ 7:32 pm

Only a 4 hour drive.

Comment by spiritofsection22 11.14.13 @ 7:43 pm

@ AJ

If you happen to be strolling past the Ritz Carlton in Cleve. their concierge will surely lead you in the right direction. Just go in and pretend you’re staying there. That is if you’re not !

Comment by EMel 11.14.13 @ 8:49 pm

Pardner has some experience at DB and played well in the nickle last season. Banks is a wildcard though.

@Justin – Conner has a 4.7 YPC average and fits the mold of the Big Back that Chryst loved while he was at UW. Conner is almost exactly the same size and has the same running style as John Clay was at Wisconsin – Clay had 3415 yards in three seasons as a starter weighing in at 6’1″ & 250. Conner is currently 6’2″ and 240 coming out of camp.

I believe that Chryst is intent on replicating his Wisconsin offenses with those big OL recruits we have already on board and coming in and he wants a Big Back and a more shifty speedster back in the backfield.

In essence I think we’ll see Conner get even more PT and carries at RB over the next few years with a better OL which I think will improve year to year. If anyone gets supplanted by a star recruit like Washington or James it will be Bennett, who graduates next season.

Comment by Reed 11.15.13 @ 8:11 am

Reed, from the Trib this morning:

Short bursts — Pitt’s longest runs from scrimmage in each game this season:

Opponent Yards Player

Florida State 20 Tyler Boyd

New Mexico 38 James Conner

Duke 40 Conner

Virginia 16 Rachid Ibrahim

Virginia Tech 12 Isaac Bennett

Old Dominion 31 Bennett

Navy 12 Bennett

Georgia Tech 7 Bennett

Notre Dame 11 Bennett
Obviusly, Pitt does not have a homerun threat at RB. Yes, I know of Bennett’s speed, etc but it would certainly help if we can get a breakaway RB threat in this year’s recruiting class.

Comment by wbb 11.15.13 @ 8:53 am

wbb – yes I think every team wants that. Perhaps the latest recruit?

Comment by Reed 11.16.13 @ 5:08 am

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