CHAPEL HILL — From the day he was hired, North Carolina coach Larry Fedora has talked of playing with a fast, aggressive pace especially on offense. His teams game this weekend, though, could represent a temporary departure.
The Tar Heels will host Georgia Tech on Saturday at Kenan Stadium, where the Yellow Jackets will attempt to confuse UNC defenders and run through them, around them, or both with their triple-option offense.
The triple-option is nearly as old as football itself, yet it remains enigmatic for defenses that rarely face it.
The best defense, in fact, might just be an offense that controls time of possession. Yet that conflicts with Fedoras approach of maximizing the number of plays for his offense while minimizing the time between those plays. Saturday, though, UNC might take its time on offense.
That is something that you think about, Fedora said. But if you dont move the chains, its not going to matter because youre not going to take much time off the clock one way or the other. So its more about, for us, sustaining drives.
Asked specifically whether the Tar Heels would use more time between plays, he started to answer.
Yeah, I think that, he said, before stopping himself and smiling. Well, I dont know. I mean, you dont want me to answer that really, do you?
Try as he might to remain coy, Fedoras one-game philosophy of burning time against the Yellow Jackets isnt exactly a novel concept. Controlling possession often plays a significant role against Georgia Techs triple-option, which has produced some of the most successful rushing offenses in the country in recent years.
Since Paul Johnson arrived before the 2008 season, the Yellow Jackets have never finished worse than fourth nationally in rushing offense. Through nine games this season, Georgia Tech has averaged 318.2 yards per game, which ranks fourth.
During Johnsons tenure, opposing defenses have rarely stopped or even slowed the triple-option. Defending it well requires discipline and focus on a specific assignment.
During the Tar Heels 35-28 defeat against Georgia Tech last season in Atlanta, tackle Sylvester Williams said he had to continually remind himself that he was responsible for defending the fullback. Several plays would pass, Williams said, without the fullback factoring into a play.
Yet that was his assignment. And he understood one mental lapse could result in a touchdown.
Youve got to keep reminding yourself, just stay disciplined, he said. Because theyre going to run plays at you, just to see whether youre in the game. At some point in the game, a play is going to come to you and youve just got to make it.
Georgia Tech ran for 312 yards last season against UNC, which has since changed coaching staffs and switched to a 4-2-5 defensive scheme.
The 4-2-5 will be tailored this week, Williams said, to defend the option, and its not likely to resemble their typical defense.
The offense could look different, too especially if UNC takes its time between plays.
UNCs 40 touchdown drives have lasted an average of 1 minute, 54 seconds. On the Tar Heels 27 touchdown drives that have spanned 50 yards are more, it has taken them an average of 2:11 to reach the end zone. This week, though, they might plan to take longer to travel there.
I feel like that will be one of our key focuses this week, is keeping the ball out of their offenses hands and keeping our defense off the field, offensive guard Jonathan Cooper said. Because one of the things they do is try to sustain long drives, really eat up the clock and then score and score again.
So if we can keep the ball out of their hands, it will really help us on both sides of the ball.