UNC tight ends coach Walt Bell discussed the importance of spacing with InsideCarolina.com last spring.
"Obviously a field is 53 1/3 yards wide - we’re going to play on every inch of that," he said. "If the ball is on the hash, a lot of teams will play 30 yards wide and use all of the field vertically, but we’re going to play 53 1/3 yards wide and we’re going to play 100 yards long. We’re going to stretch the field as much as we can."
That approach allows UNC to utilize the "one-foot, 10-foot" rule, which is a staple of spread offenses.
"[If you] hand the ball off in a big wad of people and the guy breaks a tackle, how far is the next closest guy to him? Probably about a foot away," Bell explained. "With the way we’re going to play with the perimeter screen and other stuff, if we’ve got a guy and he breaks a tackle, the next closest guy to him may be 10-12 feet away."
The following photo sets offer examples of UNC's spacing strategy.
In the first photo, North Carolina lines up in its four-wide receiver set with Gio Bernard to Bryn Renner’s left. Maryland, in its base 3-4, moves its two outside linebackers to the line of scrimmage just before the snap.
Wide receiver Nic Platt is lined up in the slot to the left side of the field. With outside linebackers Kenneth Tate and Marcus Whitfield now standing at the line of scrimmage, UNC holds a 2-to-1 advantage at the top of the photo.
Maryland’s two interior linebackers and safety bite on play-action to Bernard. Platt flares out toward the left sideline.
The spacing has worked. If cornerback Jeremiah Johnson takes the wrong angle in engaging Quinshad Davis at the top of the screen, Platt is running free down the left sideline for a long run. Credit Johnson, however, with staying on Davis’s left shoulder to protect the sideline.
Platt cuts inside off Davis’s right hip. The “one-foot, 10-foot” rule will be on display momentarily. Whitfield has recovered and is working his way back toward Platt.
Platt has one tackle to break to reach the first down sticks. Whitfield makes contact at the 44-yard line…
... and fails to bring Platt down. The next closest defender is roughly five yards away.
Platt is eventually brought down at Maryland’s 43-yard line for an 18-yard gain and a first down.
In this next photo series, North Carolina is lined up in its three-wide receiver set with Eric Ebron in the traditional tight end spot beside the right tackle. Bernard is set up to Renner’s right and Quinshad Davis is the lone receiver split out to the left. Maryland, once again, has moved both outside linebackers to the line of scrimmage to form a five-man front.
Renner moves Bernard over to his left side. As soon as the ball is snapped, safety Matt Robinson blitzes from the left side, leaving A-back Sean Tapley temporarily uncovered.
With Robinson blitzing, Maryland’s back lines are stretched thin to cover UNC’s four receivers. Interior linebackers L.A. Goree and Cole Farrand shift to their left to cover Ebron and Tapley, while safety Eric Franklin is playing deep.
Bernard’s release to the left flat forces outside linebacker Marcus Whitfield to follow suit. Note how Davis is running a quick slant into an area being vacated by two Terrapins.
Good view of how Maryland’s defense has to scramble to cover all of Renner’s potential options. Franklin is off screen, but he has shifted to the right hash mark to help cover Erik Highsmith and Tapley. Renner has his eyes set on Davis, however.
Renner gets rids of the ball before the blitz arrives. Cornerback Dexter McDougle is closing quickly on Davis, but he has no safety help as Franklin is focused on Highsmith down the right sideline.
Once again, UNC’s spacing has put just one defender between Davis and 45 yards of open field.
McDougle fails to make the tackle at the 45…
And Davis is running free to the end zone. Franklin finally re-enters the picture inside the 20-yard line.
Davis scores on a 50-yard pass play.
The two plays combined for 68 yards. It’s worth noting, however, that Platt caught his pass three yards behind the line of scrimmage and Davis caught his ball five yards up the field. Those are good examples of how decision-making and accuracy are more important than arm strength for quarterbacks in this spread offense.
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