CRAWFORD | Pre-snap reads: Louisville to face UNC without RB Jeremy Smith
WDRB's Eric Crawford previews Louisville's ACC opener at North Carolina.
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WDRB) – In a game between teams that didn’t perform as well as they’d hoped in Week 1, the University of Louisville takes a significant step forward in competition today at North Carolina’s Kenan Memorial Stadium.
The Tar Heels are still a team in search of themselves offensively, but on defense, they figure to pose a formidable challenge for Lamar Jackson and the Cardinals.
A few things to keep an eye on as the ball is snapped:
1). LOUISVILLE SNAPS. This was an area of much concern in the season opener against Purdue. The Cardinals racked up 10 false-start penalties, on their way to an NCAA-leading 16 penalties in Week One. The problem was one of communication between freshman center Rob Bell and Jackson – namely, that Bell couldn’t hear Jackson clapping his hands, the signal to snap the ball.
Bell couldn’t hear Jackson’s claps because of pre-snap movement, “stemming,” by Purdue’s defensive linemen. Expect to see even more of that from a seasoned North Carolina defense. While others on the field could hear Jackson, Bell was calling out protection changes while the defensive front was moving, and apparently couldn’t hear Jackson’s claps above the sound of his own voice. Louisville coach Bobby Petrino believes this can be rather simply addressed.
It will need to be. Those false start penalties do more than put Petrino in a more difficult play-calling position. They demoralize the offense at times. A couple early in the game can bog down offensive momentum for an entire quarter. On the road against a good ACC team, that could be the difference between winning and losing.
2). DEFENSIVE TRASH TALK. North Carolina linebacker Andre Smith didn’t come right out and predict a victory, but he did say this: “Lamar Jackson won’t beat us.”
The game plan is clear – make someone else make the big catch, the big run, the big play. Expect North Carolina to stuff the box, press up on the Louisville receivers and make Louisville’s other skill players prove they have enough skill to make game-breaking plays.
One thing Petrino didn’t like in the opener was that when Purdue spread its defense wide to deny Jackson the edge, the Cards didn’t do a good enough job springing running backs between the tackles for big gains.
This was party due to the offensive line needing to do a better job opening holes, but it also owed to Jackson making the incorrect read a few times, costing Jeremy Smith chances to ramble in the middle with some daylight. Jackson’s ability to make the right reads on those running plays will be crucial.
3). JEREMY SMITH OUT. The running task gets more difficult with the absence of running back Jeremy Smith, who suffered an injury in practice this week and won’t play in Chapel Hill. The injury was only described as a “lower extremity” injury.
While North Carolina gave up big yardage in the air in their season-opening loss to California, it was tough against the run, giving up just over 100 yards on 35 carries.
But Louisville’s defense has been good against the run, too, and this might well be one of those games where the Cardinals need their defense to take the lead until the offense can find some cracks in what North Carolina is trying to do against Lamar Jackson.
3). HANDLING THE TEMPO. North Carolina likes to play a hurry-up style, even if they haven’t settled on a quarterback. LSU transfer Brandon Harris started the opener but was ineffective, completing just 7 of 16 passes for 60 yards, with two interceptions. He gave way to freshman Chazz Surratt, who hit on 18 of 28 passes for 161 yards and a touchdown, but the passing game remains a work in progress and both are expected to play on Saturday.
The Tar Heels do have a solid back in freshman Michael Carter, who carried 11 times for 94 yards and a pair of scores. Expect to see more of him against Louisville. North Carolina returned just 12.7 percent of its total offense producers from last season, the lowest of any Power 5 school.
For the Cardinals, who don’t have quite the depth on the defensive line that they’d like to have, first-down success on defense and disrupting the Tar Heels’ rhythm will be important. The best defense against ball-control, up-tempo offenses is to take the ball away from them. First-down success leading to third-down stops is the winning equation, but more difficult to achieve as games wear on and fatigue wears in. North Carolina ran 89 plays in their opener.
The Cards will be playing without preseason All-American cornerback Jaire Alexander – who is at the game but not in uniform -- but the secondary is one area where they have some depth to cope with losing a key leader. And Louisville could be helped by a North Carolina receiving corps that had trouble creating separation and getting open against Cal in the opener.
5). PRE-SNAP CHECKS. This is the eighth meeting between Louisville, but the first since 2012. Louisville won that game 39-34 in Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium, and the first since Louisville joined the ACC. They lost 14-7 on their last trip to Chapel Hill in 2011. Bobby Petrino is 2-0 vs. North Carolina, a 34-0 win in 2004, and a 69-14 win in 2005. . . . UNC has won 13 of its past 16 regular-season games. . . . The Tar Heels have averaged better than 170 rushing yards per game the past three seasons. . . . Larry Fedora is 25-9 in Kenan Stadium.
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