UNC defensive coordinator John Papuchis discussed facing the Yellow Jackets' triple-option offense after practice concluded on Tuesday.
“I think there’s two things to it," he said. "One is they’re really good at it. I mean, they know it better than anybody else because that’s their bread and butter. I think number two is the simulation of it. It’s hard to prepare your team to play with the speed that the game is going to be because the triple option is unfamiliar to everybody within our program. So simulating in practice is difficult, and then how well they execute it makes it difficult.”
Making the task at hand more difficult for the North Carolina defense is the return of Yellow Jacket quarterback TaQuon Marshall from injury. The senior is one of three Georgia Tech players to have rushed for over 550 yards this season. Even though Marshall makes a return to the starting lineup, the UNC defense will need to prepare for Oliver, who leads the team with 660 yards on the ground.
The luxury of two dual-threat signal callers poses a risk for the Tar Heel defense as Papuchis prepares his unit for Saturday.
"You do your best to prepare for all the things that you’re going to see right, but they do a great job of having little, subtle tweaks and changes to things that they do offensively," he said.
Papuchis admitted his team will need to capitalize on its possessions against an offense that holds onto the ball for long stretches of time.
"We talk about possessions being really valuable when you play a team like this that’s going to control the ball and run the ball," he said. "So we’re looking at anywhere between 10 and 11 possessions in the game."
However, the Tar Heels have reason for hope in that department, thanks to the recent play of Nathan Elliott. The redshirt junior is in the middle of perhaps the best stretch of his career. Since entering the game late in the second quarter against Virginia Tech on Oct. 13, Elliott has thrown for five touchdowns and 739 yards in a stretch that spans 10 quarters of play. More importantly, he has limited his mistakes.
Since throwing an interception on the first play of the fourth quarter against California on Sept. 1, Elliott has thrown 213 consecutive passes without getting picked off.
Elliott should have an opportunity to increase on his string of strong performances against the 67th-ranked pass defense in the country (225.9 yards per game). It is imperative Elliott performs well if UNC has a chance to win, especially considering the Yellow Jackets have one of the more staunch run defenses in the country, checking in at 38th in the nation. That mark does not bode well for the Tar Heel rushing attack that gained just 66 yards against the Cavaliers.
The contest will likely come down to the battle of different styles — the Yellow Jackets' run offense against the Tar Heel passing attack.
If Elliott and UNC can establish the tempo and build a lead early in the game, the Tar Heels have a strong chance to win the game — and celebrate a successful Homecoming for the ninth time in the last 11 years.
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