UNC's best option against Ga. Tech might be slowing tempo

North Carolina’s best option against Georgia Tech might be slower pace on offense

acarter@newsobserver.comNovember 7, 2012 

UNC12-SP-092411-RTW

Georgia Tech's Stephen Hill (5) picks up 34 yards on a pass completion from quarterback Tevin Washington (13) before being stopped by UNC's Tre Boston (10) in the second quarter on Saturday September 24, 2011 at Bobby Dodd Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia.

ROBERT WILLETT - 2011 NEWS & OBSERVER FILE PHOTO

— From the day he was hired, North Carolina coach Larry Fedora has talked of playing with a fast, aggressive pace – especially on offense. His team’s 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 Fedora’s 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 don’t move the chains, it’s not going to matter because you’re not going to take much time off the clock one way or the other. So it’s 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 don’t know. … I mean, you don’t want me to answer that really, do you?”

Try as he might to remain coy, Fedora’s one-game philosophy of burning time against the Yellow Jackets isn’t exactly a novel concept. Controlling possession often plays a significant role against Georgia Tech’s 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 Johnson’s 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.

“You’ve got to keep reminding yourself, just stay disciplined,” he said. “Because they’re going to run plays at you, just to see whether you’re in the game. … At some point in the game, a play is going to come to you and you’ve 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 it’s not likely to resemble their typical defense.

The offense could look different, too – especially if UNC takes its time between plays.

UNC’s 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 offense’s 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.”

Carter: 919-829-8944

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