Carolina Football FACT of The Day: August 1, 2008

Your source for the weird and useless facts about Carolina football.

Fact: Carolina loses by an average of 45 points when introduced on television by Brooks & Dunn. This fact is based on the highly reliable sample size of one, a 52-7 drubbing at the hands of Clemson in 2006. Unfortunately, there’s video proof.

BONUS FACT! Carolina was 0-5 on LF/Raycom in 2007, with losses to UVa, Va. Tech, Wake, NC State and Georgia Tech, 2-2 on the ESPN family of networks, and 2-0 in untelevised games. Prepare your Steve Martin and Doc Walker voodoo dolls accordingly.

As Seen on EDSBS!

We have seen our name in lights, and it is glorious.

Tar Heel Mania was a visiting lecturer at Every Day Should Be Saturday, the finest college football blog on the planet, providing a preview of UNC’s season. Go check it out. Needless to say, I’m ecstatic.

Carolina Football FACT of the Day

To help you get ready for the college football season, Tar Heel Mania will provide you with strange Carolina Football facts on a regular basis.

FACT: The Tar Heels are 43-57 since 1990 when the head coach wears a mustache. Coincidence? I think not.

Exhibit A.

Exhibit B.

Exhibit C.

2008 Season Previews: Defensive Ends

Probable Starters: E.J. Wilson (#92), ???

Key Reserves: Darius Massenburg (#98), Greg Elleby (#95), Darius Powell (#40), Quinton Coples (#90)

Overview:

Now we’re getting to where games are won: at the line of scrimmage. On defense, end is the position with the biggest question marks (just ahead of strongside linebacker) after the departure of Hilee Taylor. Wilson has proven himself going into his third season in the DE rotation. In 2007 he had 44 tackles and 9.5 sacks flanking Taylor.  His starting place is secure.

The battle for the other spot is very much open-ended. The next four guys on the depth chart are a freshman (Coples) and three sophomores who all got time last year, but combined for just 18 tackles. If the decision is made purely on 2007 statistics, the advantage goes to Massenburg, who had 11 tackles, 1TFL, and 3 QB hurries. But there is very little to separate any of these players.

Outlook: There really isn’t much more to say here. Wilson will be solid for the Heels on one end, but there is very little to indicate what will happen with the other DE position and the bench until September rolls around. The battle at this position should go well into training camp and even into the season.

Address the Mess: Slow Starts

Address the Mess is a new feature to discuss some of the problems Carolina Football faced last season, and how the team might correct them. Not that we’re in a mess; far from it. But in the parity (bad-ness-ness-ness-ness) of the ACC, where Carolina played in 8 games decided by a touchdown or less, successfully addressing even one of these issues can be worth an extra win or two. Today we start with the Tar Heels’ struggles in the first and third quarters.

The Problem: “Hello, uh…Mr.  Yates? Coach? O-Line? D-backs? Hi, my name is Mike. I’m a big fan of yours. Listen, uh just so you know, it’s ehmmm about 12:30, which means the football game you guys are a part of has, uh already started, so I just wanted you a friendly reminder to, uhh START PLAYING LIKE IT! Okay, good to see you, and good luck.”

Is this an accurate description of you, the Tar Heel fan, circa last season? If so, I understand. In Carolina’s eight close games, opponents outscored UNC 123-71 in the first and third quarters, and in four of our twelve games the Heels were shut out in those quarters. Conversely, UNC outscored its FBS opponents 126-83 in the second and fourth quarters and overtime Extrapolated, that’s a swing of more than 20 points per game when the outcome was determined by a touchdown or less.

The Reasons: The Heels had just appeared to be sluggish out of the gate. It’s difficult to know exactly why, but two trends presented themselves in the first and third quarters more than anything else.

The most obvious (and correctable) problem is turnovers. First quarters were littered with interceptions, almost-interceptions, and a failed fourth-and-goal conversion against Georgia Tech (a turnover in spirit) caused by a dropped touchdown pass. These kinds of mental mistakes would fill an entire article, but this is an inexperienced team, and in this case turnovers are only part of the story.

A larger and more subtle theme at the start of games has been the inability to control the line of scrimmage. The offensive line, with only one experienced starter (Scott Lenahan), were particularly vulnerable in the first quarter, getting beat by opposing D-lines consistently. This explains more than anything else why the running game just didn’t work at the start of games, and Yates made bad decisions in the first one or two possessions.

Conversely, the defensive line had some odd lapses to start the game as well, completely uncharacteristic compared to their typical performances later in the game. They allowed Virginia’s Cedric Peerman to run for nearly 100 yards in the first quarter. Virginia Tech’s only big offensive play came on the second play from scrimmage, a 54-yard run by Eddie Royal to set up their first touchdown. And Chris Smelley lit up the secondary to help South Carolina gain a 14 point lead in the first quarter. Carolina came back in all of these games after correcting their defensive issues.

The Solution: There isn’t a very clear-cut way to deal with this particular issue. Protecting the ball obviously helps, keeping both possession and momentum in your favor early in the game. The offensive line also has to do its job. It’s difficult to get much of anything done if the O-line gets pushed 2-3 yards into the backfield. On defense, it’s about controlling the line of scrimmage early in the game. That shouldn’t be a problem for the defensive tackles, but Carolina may show a bit of weakness at the ends. If Carolina puts E.J. Wilson on one side of the line and QUANTAVIUS THE MAGNIFICENT behind the other DE, it should probably patch up any glaring issues at the line.

The Tally: Many other factors belie whether or not a team gets off to a good start in a game, but at least breaking even in the first and third quarters should be worth an extra 1.5 to 2.5 victories this season.

(Photo: Inside Carolina/Jim Hawkins)

2008 Season Previews: Linebackers

The future (left) and the recent past (right) of great UNC linebacking.

Starters: Mark Paschal (#41), Chase Rice (#44), Quantavius Sturdivant (#52)

Key Reserves: Bruce Carter (#54), Kennedy Tinsley (#36), Kevin Reddick

Overview:

Linebacker is perhaps the position where the Tar Heels have the biggest power vacuum. Leading tackler Durell Mapp graduated, and reliable backup Wesley Flagg was dismissed from the team. That leaves four linebackers with any real experience: Seniors Rice and Paschal, and sophomores Sturdivant and Carter. Sturdivant and the two seniors are expected to compose the starting lineup, with Carter getting serious playing time off the bench. The rest of the bench is an unknown at this position. Beginning to see a pattern here?

Paschal leads all returning linebackers with 53 tackles and 6.5 tackles for loss last season. He will be held responsible for the middle linebacker position that Mapp left vacant. Chase Rice was a starter coming into the 2007 season, but his year quickly ended due to an ankle injury against James Madison. His role was partially filled by Bruce Carter, who had 25 tackles coming off the bench. The Heels have an talented incoming freshman in Kevin Reddick, but no one knows how much of an impact he will have. Besides, dudes with that kind of last name are taboo ’round these here parts.

Hey, it’s not my fault your name sounds like the 3rd most hated Dukie of all time.

That leaves us with Sturdivant. From now on, he will no longer be adressed by his pagan name. Now and forever more, Tar Heel Maniacs shall address him as QUANTAVIUS THE MAGNIFICENT, lord of the linebackers! Destroyer of worlds, avenger of running backs and defyer of lines of scrimmage AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

Sorry, got carried away there. Anyway…Quantavius The Magnificent is the up and comer of this group, playing in all twelve games last season, starting in four of them. Quantavius the Magnificent racked up 47 tackles, including a sack, an interception, and one sweet blocked punt against Miami. The game against the HUrricanes was, in essence, his coming out party. He is almost certainly the future NFL player in this linebacking corps; expect him to make big noise in the ACC this season at weakside LB.

Outlook: Quantavius The Magnificent aside, this might be Carolina’s weakest position on the field. Paschal is the only player with a full season in the starting lineup, and to our best knowledge there is little in the way of depth on the bench. Of all the positions, this is probably where we can least afford a serious injury. However, the starting three and Bruce Carter are still good enough to hold their own this season. Provided that everyone stays healthy, of course.

(Photo: Orlando Sentinel)

HeelTube: Deunta Williams

As you can well imagine, finding good UNC football video on YouTube tends to be pretty difficult (compared to, say, Auburn). However, users like colbert08 are making it a lot easier, going so far as to put together 2007 highlights of this year’s key players. Today’s highlight reel is of The ACC Defensive Freshman of the Year, safety Deunta Williams.

Watching our defense this year is going to be fun.

2008 Season Preview: Cornerbacks

Starters: Kendric Burney (#16), Charles Brown (#12)

Key Reserves: Jordan Hemby, Tavorris Jolly, LaCount Fantroy, Richie Rich

Overview: Deunta Williams may be the most hyped defensive back on the roster, but cornerback Kendric Burney may be even more pivotal to the success of Carolina’s pass defense. The fellow Freshman All-ACC player was 7th on the team with 50 total tackles, including 4.5 tackles for loss. Despite only one interception and four pass deflections on the year, he succeeded in shutting down opposing receivers on a consistent basis, virtually shutting down the passing game in one half of the field. (Interesting sidenote: Burney played baseball in high school, and was good enough to be a part of UNC’s preseason baseball team at training camp. Ultimately, he decided to concentrate on football and left the roster.)

Burney is flanked by an equally impressive underclassman in Charles Brown. Unlike Burney, Brown had to enter the starting lineup after senior Jermaine Strong had a season-ending leg injury against Virginia Tech, and Tavorris Jolly’s outing against Miami did not work out so well. An oft-used nickelback prior to getting the call, Charles impressed in the final five games of the season, and finished among the top five in team tackles. If Brown doesn’t play to expectations this year, just be glad he isn’t a kicker.

Sorry. Couldn’t resist.

The two cornerbacks are both under 5’10″, but what they lack in size they make up for in speed and awareness. They may have only combined for three interceptions, but two of those picks were returned for touchdowns (granted, both against NC State).

As with the safeties, the Heels had better hope that Burney and Brown stay healthy; the rotation behind them is still a bit of an enigma.

Outlook: I am very confident that Burney and Brown can hold their own at the corners. Combined with the two starting safeties, Carolina’s starting secondary should be one of the better units in the conference. If one of the starters gets hurt, however, it’s anybody’s guess how it will turn out. As with most things Tar Heel Football, I’m cautiously optimistic.

Time to Get Your Hopes Up

The symbol of optimists everywhere.

At the end of the ACC Kickoff, the media voted on how they thought the conference would shake out. As expected, Clemson and Virginia Tech are the favorites to win their respective divisions, with the Tigers expected to win the conference. Much like the Spanish soccer team, experts are expecting Clemson to do what their talent says they should have done for the past three years.

There was also the usual mild surprises such as Florida State and Miami finishing in the middle of their respective divisions (sweet) and NC State finishing last in the Atlantic (super sweet). What was the most shocking to me, however, was where the Tar Heels were ranked.

The media expects big things out of Chapel Hill this year. That, or they expect to enjoy pointing and laughing at ACC football this season. Either way, the Heels were voted to finish second in the Coastal this season. Yes, this is a down year for the conference and yes, we’re expected to make one of the biggest leaps of any team in the country this year. So why is it still surprising to a Carolina fan? Because the last time the media picked us to finish in the top half of the ACC, this guy was our quarterback. Hint: our team vaguely resembled a spice rack. (People often forget that he was supposed to be the next Charlie Ward.)

So, are the media expecting too much too fast, or are Heels fans still overly cautious to be emotionally invested in a potential 8-9 win season? I think it’s the latter. This is the year where Carolina can, and should, make the leap into a consistent bowl contender. The nonconference schedule is solid but not daunting, we dodged the top half of the Atlantic Division, and we get many of our most important games (especially Virginia Tech) at home. Virtually every game is winnable; we proved that we can stay close no matter who we play. And all of our young, talented players now have a year under their belts.

Granted, I would still be happy with just a bowl game. But the stars have aligned this season. It’s time…finally…for Carolina fans to expect great things from their football team.

UPDATE: Deunta Williams certainly has his hopes up. Way, way up. Hey, if Wake could win an ACC title in 2006, we certainly stand a chance to get it in 2008.

2008 Season Preview: Safeties

Starters:

Free Safety-Deunta Williams

Strong Safety-Trimane Goddard

Key Reserves:

Da’Norris Searcy, Matt Merletti, Jonathan Smith

Overview

Free Safety- Deunta Williams, ACC Defensive ROY, is the undisputed #1 at this position, and perhaps the anchor of Carolina’s secondary. Williams and Goddard were two of three returning DBs who were among the top five tacklers for the Heels in 2007. Normally this bodes poorly for run defense, but the Heels were pretty okay against the run.

Strong Safety- Trimane Goddard is the old fox of UNC’s defense, and one of this team’s last remaining starters from the Bunting administration. (Even if that was only due to a year and a half of injury setbacks.) He is a relic of a bygone era that all Heels fans must cherish, in a way very similar to free pizza: observe, enjoy, devour, pretend it didn’t happen. By that I mean the Bunting era, not Goddard.

Wrong Goddard, dude.

He may have lost a step after his leg fracture (which is why he moved from FS), but he is still a very good college level strong safety. As one of the few starting seniors, Goddard’s leadership will be paramount to the Heels’ defensive success.

Both safeties will have a good deal of run defense responsibility as well, given the dearth of great quarterbacking in the ACC this year.

Verdict: Carolina is fortunate to have two talented safeties with at least a full season of experience under their belt. But with the possible exception of Da’Norris Searcy, there is no experience behind them; high school talent is all we have to go by for the backups. So hopefully Williams and Goddard can stay healthy and anchor a solid defense for Carolina.

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