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Defending the Flexbone: North Carolina

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Dedicated to stopping big plays, this defense had some early success

North Carolina played a pretty basic strategy against GT. The played a classic pyramid linebacking formation with the middle linebacker waaaay behind the outside linebackers and they brought their safeties in just a little bit. They focused on not giving up big plays and making Georgia Tech work for it. For a half, it worked. Both of GT’s first half scoring drives were long, grind it out drives that lasted over 15 plays and at least 7 minutes.

First, to counter the Tar Heels moving their safeties in (and perhaps to get Taquon Marshall more comfortable throwing the ball) Paul Johnson seemed to try to air it out some. It wasn’t very effective. UNC got a couple sacks and Ricky Jeune dropped an easy ball that would have been a big gain. Then CPJ tried to use the counter option to take advantage of the UNC defense over-pursuing. This was definitely more effective.

Just take this play below early in the first half. It is a simple counter dive and you can see the great play design. The defensive end pinches in and the right tackle does a fantastic job of closing him out so that he is stuck in the interior and opens up a hole on the outside. Jerry Howard is quick to the hole and the outside linebacker, who is not expecting a dive because the DE pinched in, isn’t able to adjust and make the tackle. The middle linebacker (note, they have their linebackers in a little bit of an odd formation on this one so the middle linebacker is standing directly behind one of the outside linebackers in the middle of the field) doesn’t cover the dive at all and over-pursues towards the outside options. Even though the b-back comes his direction he is unable to adjust back and make the tackle. This dive goes for a solid gain of about 15 yards.

In the second half it seemed like the Tar Heels started to tire out due to lack of depth. Take KirVonte Benson’s touchdown run. It is a similar play to the one above, but North Carolina should have snuffed it out. The playside outside linebacker reads the play very well and is in good position to make the tackle, but is unable to bring him down. They slow him down enough that two defensive lineman catch up with him, but they barely even knock him off balance. Benson then outruns most of the Heels defense with the help of some good downfield blocking. This play came after a decently long Tech drive followed quickly by a UNC turnover. This shorthanded defense may have been tired and dejected and let that get to them.