On the opening series of New England’s 27-0 win over Houston on Thursday night, the Patriots ran a read option with Jacoby Brissett and a jet sweep to a slot receiver.
The sequence was instantly recognized by N.C. State fans and not just because Brissett was the Wolfpack’s starting quarterback the previous two years.
It was as if former offensive coordinator Matt Canada, and not Josh McDaniels, was calling New England’s plays. N.C. State fans will not be imagining things on Saturday when Pittsburgh (2-1) faces North Carolina (2-1) in an important early-season Coastal Division matchup in Chapel Hill.
Canada will actually be calling the plays for the Panthers. Canada, who was N.C. State’s offensive coordinator for three years, was replaced by head coach Dave Doeren shortly after the 2015 season. It was an awkward and unexpected decision, given N.C. State’s problems weren’t exactly on offense last year.
Never miss a local story.
But, as Doeren later explained, it wasn’t personal or because Doeren didn’t like what N.C. State’s offense did under Canada, averaging 33.2 points and 202 rushing yards last year.
It was a change in philosophy, Doeren said, because “we’re not player for player, across the board, going to be able to knock Florida State, Louisville and Clemson off the ball all the time.”
But Pittsburgh, with its veteran offensive line and the indomitable James Conner at running back, has been a perfect fit for Canada’s power ground game.
UNC, which has had its problems stopping the run, will definitely recognize Pitt’s offense. The Panthers recently scored 42 points in a big win over Penn State and threw for a grand total of 91 yards.
Conner, who missed last year rehabbing from a major knee injury and cancer, has posted back-to-back 100-yard games. Receiver Quadree Henderson has emerged as Canada’s go-to option on his pet jet sweep plays and has 153 yards on 11 carries. As a team, the Panthers average 239 rushing yards per game.
The last time Conner was in Chapel Hill, he ran for 220 yards in a 40-35 loss in 2014. The last time Canada was in Chapel Hill, the Wolfpack ran for 388 yards in a 35-7 win.
Even last year, in UNC’s 45-34 win over N.C. State in Raleigh, the Wolfpack ran for 308 yards against UNC’s defense with its third- and fourth-string running backs.
So there’s a good reason UNC defensive coordinator Gene Chizik began the week trying to get his defense’s attention with some tough love.
The question for Pitt: Can it stop a UNC offense, which is structured just like the one used by Oklahoma State, which racked up 45 points and 640 yards against Pitt’s defense last week?
The first one to 50 might be the winner.
On to your Twitter questions (submit yours for inclusion to @jwgiglio):
Seems early to have a bye. Any concern the Pack runs out of gas in November?
As a general rule, coaches don’t like early breaks on the schedule. It can prevent you from getting into a rhythm and when you play 12 games, you’d prefer to get a week off somewhere in the middle.
In a perfect world, N.C. State could definitely have used a break between consecutive trips to No. 5 Clemson (Oct. 15) and No. 3 Louisville (Oct. 22). But you don’t get to pick where your open date falls on the schedule.
One idea that would make sense for the ACC to push is to go to a permanent 14-week regular season.
When Labor Day falls just right on the calendar, as it did in 2014 but won’t again until 2019, college teams get two open dates over a 14-week period.
There’s no reason why the NCAA can’t let the season start the last Thursday/Saturday in August, regardless of where Labor Day falls.
The extra week off would help with scheduling flexibility, which will be a major concern for the ACC when it requires its teams to play 10 games against Power 5 teams, starting conveniently in 2019.
And it would help with player safety. As you know, the NCAA is all about the “student-athlete.*”
(*Except when it comes to their time, safety or education. And if by “concern,” you mean exploiting them for their own wealth and that of the member schools’ administrators and coaches.)
Who will be the Power 5 school to bring Art Briles in and deal with the PR hit?
I would never put anything past the SEC’s win-at-all-costs mentality but that’s going to be a difficult sell.
Unless an independent investigation unequivocally clears Briles of any wrongdoing in the sexual assault crises at Baylor under his watch, he is likely going to have start over outside the Power 5.
If any FBS schools are willing to take a chance, you figure they’d be in Texas — where Briles spent eight years at Baylor and five at Houston. In no order: North Texas, UTEP, Texas-San Antonio, Texas State or SMU might be willing to take a chance.
It’s more likely Briles’ 33-year-old son, Kendal, who is the offensive coordinator at Baylor, will get a head job before his old man does.
Score predictions for (Saturday’s games)?
I’m terrible at predicting scores. I do expect a good game in Chapel Hill and for Duke to show a little pride and keep it close enough at Notre Dame.
For what it’s worth, Bill Connelly’s data-driven work at Football Study Hall, for SB Nation, projects UNC to beat Pitt, 35-29; Notre Dame to beat Duke, 39-24; Virginia Tech to beat East Carolina, 39-19; and Indiana to beat Wake Forest, 32-23.
Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio