Coming into this Saturday’s game against Miami, the biggest fuss surrounding UNC is the quarterback situation. T.J. Yates is gone for half the season, and there doesn’t seem to be much separation between Mike Paulus and Cam Sexton (if you believe coach Davis, of course). No matter who plays the general consensus is that the Heels are going to be reeling from this loss.
But you know what? I’m not all that worried about Paulus or Sexton running the offense. Perhaps I should be, but I’m not. And here’s why.
The UNC offense will not change much. Both Butch Davis and John Shoop have made it clear that they are going to run the same offense as they would with Yates as their QB. Both Sexton and Pulus have taken a lot of snaps in this offense at some point, either while the QB situation was still in doubt last year or when Yates was recovering from shoulder surgery this past offseason.
That said, I think we will see a few tweaks to what Shoop has shown us earlier in the year. One of the offenses bread-and-butter- plays last year was the one step drop and quick pass to a receiver at the line of scrimmage. If the corners gave a bit too much space, Yates would take the snap and quickly throw it to Nicks, Tate, or Foster. I lieu of a true running game, this play consistently gained 5-10 yards for the Heels. Those types of plays have been strangely abesnt from the playbook so far in 2008 (presumably because Shoop trusts Yates to make riskier throws). Given the new QB situation and the continued struggles in the backfield, it would be interesting to see if the quickpass makes it back into the playbook.
Both QBs have their advantages. Sexton is certainly a more experienced player than Paulus. While he got a bit of a bad reputation after he was thrown into the fire that UNC’s disastrous 2006 season, people tend to forget that he, like Paulus, was a 4 star recruit out of high school, and was expected to ultimately become the starter before complications got in the way (foot injury, Joe Dailey, his 2006 performance, Yates). A more mobile QB than Paulus, it’s quite possible that he’s a much better quarterback now than he was two years ago. So, no matter what you think of him, Sexton may be every bit the talent (or enigma) that Paulus is right now.
As for Paulus, there is little doubt about his arm strength, but he definitely won;t threaten anyone with his legs. Like Sexton, he was recruited to be the eventual starter before Yates burst onto the scene. While he does have experience in practice, Virginia Tech was his first true in-game situation. For Paulus, the next five or six games are not just filling in at QB. This could be his to prove, if he plays well enough, that he once again deserves consideration for the starting job. (Or if nothing else, possibly auditioning to transfer in the offseason.) If he cracks under the pressure, we’ve got a stable QB situation when T.J. comes back. If he shines, we’ve got 2 very good QB’s from which to choose.
There are 21 other guys on the field, and their feet are fine. As much as we like to believe otherwise, a good quarterback isn’t always the game-changing talent. Often it’s the QB who just manages the offense, doesn’t make mistakes, and helps his team play better. Uh oh, I think I’m beginning to sound like Dr. Lou! OH NO! Too…many…cliches…(administers tranquilizer dart on self, faints)
(wakes up 4 hours later)…OK, where was I? Oh yes. My point is that how well our quarter back plays will depend, at least partially, on how the rest of the team plays. The defense has to continue performing well, starting against the very talented (if green) Hurricanes. In particular, we’ve seen our linebackers perform above expectations and the emergence of Robert Quinn at defensive end. The offensive line has to perform, giving time for the QB as well as controlling the line of scrimmage for the tailbacks. If everything goes as it should, pretty much all the QB will have to do is hand the ball off on half of the plays and find an open receiver on the other half.
The mistakes of last week are correctable. Let’s face it: Mike Paulus’ pick to Macho Harris, while costly, didn’t cost Carolina the game. Penalties cost them the game. A subpar rushing attack cost them the game. Defensive fatigue cost them the game.
Most importantly, experience seemed to cost them the game. Discounting the third quarter drive where everyone believes VT seized momentum, there were many other factors that led to their comeback victory. UNC committed two bad fumbles that led to 10 Tech points. Jay Wooten missed an early 40 yard field goal. The Heels tried to go for the first down on 4th and 1 at the VT 5 and were called for a delay of game, forcing the Heels to settle for a field goal. A late hit on a fourth quarter punt return ultimately led to the game-winning field goal. Discounting the infamous drive and Paulus’ pick, human error on the part of UNC led to a 23 point swing in favor of the Hokies, from a plausible 27-7 UNC lead.
The good news about all of this is that all of these mistakes can be corrected, and almost certainly will not be repeated to the same extent.