Saturday, September 4, 2010

LSU game is now a fascinating test of UNC coaches

North Carolina athletics director Dick Baddour is continuing to insist he has confidence in Butch Davis, despite the fact that 13 players are now ineligible for the opening game. Davis has shown he can recruit elite players, but has yet to show he can guide UNC to victories in elite games and a high-level season. And that’s why tonight’s game with LSU is perhaps even more interesting given the off-the-field mess.

Last year was almost two seasons for UNC. Carolina’s opposing coaches were clearly superior in the UNC losses to Georgia Tech, Virginia and Florida State. But Davis and his staff deserve credit for turning around the season with a win at Virginia Tech and a closing stretch that included four wins in the final six games.

Carolina faces a fascinating challenge now on two fronts. The first, and most obvious, is, will Carolina be ready to play? The personnel losses don’t matter once 8 p.m. arrives and the hitting starts, and fans will watch to see if UNC plays with poise and precision.

The other is strategy. Offensive coordinator John Shoop and defensive coordinator Everett Withers face distinct challenges with their game plans.

Shoop has lost the bulk of his running game and his best receiver. But he has to attack against LSU, given that Carolina won’t win this game with defense. How much does he rely on Johnny White at tailback? How much does he throw downfield? How much confidence does he show in those young receivers who are now sophomores? And if the offense wobbles under T.J. Yates, does he bring in Bryn Renner?

Withers is in this third season at UNC and has benefited from tremendous talent. He is also the secondary coach, so he’s quite familiar with the backups who will start tonight. He has an inexperienced, and thin, defensive line.

Does he blitz often and leave his secondary exposed? Does he keep his linebackers back, and hope his pass rush is still sufficient?

In some ways, this game is like the NFL strike season. It was fascinating to see how the NFL’s great coaches responded to totally different personnel.

The LSU games offers a fascinating chess match - and an interesting glimpse into how well Carolina’s coaches can use their personnel.

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