#STINGDAILY: Getting Defensive

Sept. 18, 2013

By Matt Winkeljohn
Sting Daily

There is this pending business about defending North Carolina that might drive a defensive coordinator nuts, although Georgia Tech’s Ted Roof does not appear rattled.

At least not too much.

The potential is there as UNC’s Bryn Renner is on track to become the first quarterback in school history to pass for 3,000 or more yards in three seasons. The Tar Heels also have two talented tight ends who by their unique skill sets create matchup issues, and the boys in baby blue add a potentially dizzying scheme run at a frantic pace.

It starts with the quarterback, of whom Tech cornerback Louis Young says, “He’s got a pretty big arm. He can sling it.”

Renner has completed 63.6 percent of his passes through two games, and that’s actually taken his career success rate down to .664. He passed for 339 yards in a win 10 days ago over Middle Tennessee State, and that gave him five 300+ games in his last six.

The 6-foot-3 senior from West Springfield, Va., knows what he’s doing. Add a speedy back like Romar Morris to offer a breakaway threat to tight ends Eric Ebron and Jack Tabb and others, and the Tar Heels epitomize going multiple.

Oh, and they go about their business quite quickly, some times with mere seconds between plays. So there’s all that to sleep on, or not.

“They go fast. They’ve got good players. They’ve got a good scheme,” Roof said. “The combination of all their screen concepts is the No. 1 concept in the throwing game for them . . . with the slip screens, the hitch screens, the jail-break screens, and all the gadgets that come off those.

“The double passes, the bubble-and-goes, and hitch-and-goes. That’s all something that we’re spending a lot of time on.”

Renner and the Tar Heels had their hands full in their opener, a loss to South Carolina, but had their way in a 40-20 win over MTSU.

They will offer a differing look in some ways relative to Tech’s first two opponents, although some of their pacing will be similar. More than anything, while the Tar Heels will run their share of quick-hitting pass plays, they’ll likely run a few that will take more time than did Elon or Duke.

Translation: there will be times when Renner wants to camp in the pocket.

The Jackets sure don’t want to let that happen.

“UNC’s O-line is a little bigger,” said Tech defensive tackle Euclid Cummings. “I feel like [the Tar Heels take] longer drops by the quarterback. When a guy sits and holds the ball you’ve got to have pressure.”

That’d be a big plus, especially since the notion of Tech defenders fooling Renner with pre-snap chicanery seems a longer shot by virtue of him playing in his 30th college game. He’s been around the block, and the ACC, a while. There are multiple reasons why he holds the conference career passing efficiency mark (152.16).

It’s not going to be easy to fool the young man, although the Jackets will try – just probably not too much.

“You can out-think yourself. We’re not trying to trick anybody, but at the same time disguise is part of our package and always has been and always will be,” Roof said. “We’ve got to get better at that.

“Certainly, with a more experienced quarterback and one who’s well coached like he is, they’ll pick those things up.”

Although the 6-4, 245-pound Ebron is a tight end to remember, the Tar Heels do not appear to have an obvious All-America receiver in their arsenal. They do not tilt their attack toward one player; they spread the ball around.

UNC has completed passes to 12 different players through two games, yet Ebron leads the way with a modest seven receptions.

“They’re capable across the board. If you only had one great player and everybody else was a dog that’d be one thing,” Roof said. “You can’t focus on one guy and one thing.”

Young wasn’t kidding when he said, “It’s just being alert, knowing your assignment, being in the right spot, and limiting mental errors . . . you can’t really key in on one guy. They mix it up from the screen to a deep ball to slants to over routes.”

And they do it fast.

That should come as no surprise. Anybody remember the winning defensive coordinator when Auburn won the 2010 national title with a 22-19 win over hyper-paced Oregon?

Yep, raise a hand for Roof. His goal will be, to a great degree, to keep it simple.

“We have 21 things we can do off one [defensive] call. We’re not going to do all 21 because the signaling would last too long,” he said. “Against teams that play up-tempo, you’ve got to get lined up and adjust to the funky formations they throw at you. When I was at Auburn, I guess that’s when it started to become vogue-ish.”

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