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Tiki's Game Analysis: UNC

The Hoos season continues to fall apart. The defense finally does its job (with a little help from a mistake-prone UNC offense), and the offense can't keep up. The playcalling on both sides of the ball is unimaginative and repetitive. The coaching staff makes the same mistakes they have for 5 years. When will it end?

Matt Johns' has lost whatever he seemed to have earlier in the season.
Matt Johns' has lost whatever he seemed to have earlier in the season.
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Coming into the season, Wahoo fans expected to see something similar to what we saw last year. Namely, a solid defense with an offense that couldn't keep up. For the first time, we got what we expected. The Hoos basically shut down a potent UNC offense, but the offense couldn't get out of its own way in scoring a season-low 13 points.

I feel like these articles are getting repetitive. Perhaps that is because the Wahoo football team hasn't changed in the past 3 years. With Mike London at the helm and the same coordinators in place for 3 years now, we haven't seen any improvement. We haven't seen any innovation. We have seen the same play calls, the same mistakes and the same losses. Obviously, it is time for a change.

An offense that looked promising early in the season has completely fallen apart. Currently, the Hoos rank 96th in total offense and 98th in scoring offense. The rushing offense, even after over 200 yards on the ground this week, ranks 109th. How does Steve Fairchild still have a job? Through 3 years, Fairchild's offense has ranked 89th, 87th and 96th. At least if there was some improvement in the offense's production, you could argue that he's done something.

The offense shows no creativity, especially on the road. Against a defense like UNC's, the screen passes that Fairchild loves so much weren't likely to be very productive. This was obvious to me from watching 3 minutes of UNC game tape. Fairchild surely has access to much more than 3 minutes of game tape, and yet he still repeatedly called screen passes on 3rd and long. A few screen passes were productive this week, but they were run on early downs, when screens are less likely. That, right there, seems to be what Fairchild doesn't get. Calling plays when the opposition doesn't expect it is the key to having a successful offense. Sure, if you've got Barry Sanders in the backfield, you can run off-tackle every play and be successful. But with mere mortals on the field, the Hoos need to be creative and industrious on offense and Steve Fairchild isn't capable of running that type of offense.

Case in point. Early in the game, the Hoos used a couple of rollouts by Matt Johns and found Charlie Hopkins for some big plays, including the Hoos' lone TD. Later in the game, when down near the UNC goalline, Fairchild called the same exact play that had scored the TD. Is it any surprise that it didn't work a second time?

The defense played well this week. They harassed Marquis Williams in the pocket and forced 2 turnovers including their first INT of the season. It should be noted that Jon Tenuta's blitz happy defense finally forced an INT on a play with no blitz. Kwontie Moore got to Williams on his own, beating his man one-on-one, rushing Williams and forcing him into a poor throw. The Hoos had 1 sack on the day, which did come on a blitz. However, the blitz had little to do with the sack, as Mike Moore used a speed rush on the edge and simply beat Jon Heck. Two blitzers came up the middle on that play and didn't get within 5 yards of Williams.

The Hoos second turnover was simply a great individual play by Demetrious Nicholson. Of course, it came as UNC's Mack Hollins was fighting for a first down on a 3rd and 20 play. Was that 3rd and 20 play caused by the UVA defense? No. It was unforced penalties on UNC's offense, which would be a problem throughout the day. In fact, you could argue that the Heels did as much to shut down their offense as the Hoos did.

And Tenuta isn't learning from his mistakes either. Against Notre Dame, the Hoos got beat deep in a situation where you simply can't get beat deep. In that case, the Hoos blitzed even though they didn't need a sack. That, of course, was the game-winning TD. This weekend, with just seconds remaining in the first half, the Hoos  got beat deep by Mack Hollins. Once again, the Hoos didn't need a sack. Why are you blitzing? Why is there single coverage on UNC's top deep threat in that situation? The play ended up not counting because of a pass interference penalty on UNC's Mack Hollins, but the point remains. Also, that was a bogus PI call.

As always, my notes:

  • What the heck has happened to Matt Johns? This isn't the same QB we saw early in the season. On his first INT, I don't know if there was a miscommunication or what, but the throw was 10 feet over Canaan Severin's head. He later threw an INT that bounced off Severin's hands and another on 4th down in the endzone. His 4th INT was late in the game in desperation. So, really only one of the 4 INTs was Johns' fault. But still, earlier in the year he was throwing the ball with confidence, he was making things happen with his feet and he was on pace to produce one of the better UVA seasons for a QB. Since then he's completely fallen off the pace. Even without the INTs, he wasn't sharp this week. He missed some easy passes, throwing behind his intended target at times and in front of his intended target at other times.
  • It will be interesting to see what happens at QB over the rest of the season. Since this season seems like it is essentially over, it would be nice to see what Connor Brewer or Corwin Cutler could do. A new head coach (and offensive coordinator) may want to make a change at QB even with a senior starting returning. And as a fan, I would certainly like to see what those guys can do, as both of them should be more naturally talented than Johns. But Mike London and Steve Fairchild have little reason to go away from Johns.
  • Smoke Mizzell is finally having the kind of impact we all thought he could have when he arrived on Grounds. Still, he's far more dangerous as a receiver than as a runner, but that is mostly due to playcalling and blocking. He has 466 yards receiving and 371 on the ground. Frankly, it is pitiful that nobody on the team has 500 yards receiving or 400 yards rushing through 7 games, but that's besides the point. I wonder if there are any other teams where the same player leads the team in rushing and receiving.
  • Demetrious Nicholson had a forced fumble and could've had an INT had Quin Blanding not taken it away from him. Strong game from the senior. He may be too small, and not quite quick enough, for the NFL. But he's had a strong career at Virginia. Along with Maurice Canady, his departure is going to make next year's secondary a big question mark.
  • I have never seen kick returners pause as often as I've seen it from Virginia's kick returners. T.J. Thorpe was a good KR for the Tar Heels in the past, so I don't understand why he does that now. You can't pause, you have to just go. He has 2 returns for 32 yards total this year. The Hoos rank 101st in KR this year.
  • Nicholas Conte has quickly made everybody forget about Alec Vozenilek. I was concerned about him outkicking his coverage against Ryan Switzer, but he had 3 punts, averaging 42.3 yards per kick and Switzer had all of 1 punt return yard. Very solid from Conte.
  • The Hoos can't stop teams from running. Georgia Tech's triple option is the 8th ranked rushing offense in the nation. I fear for the kind of numbers the Jackets could put up on this defense.