UNC offensive coordinator Blake Anderson (center) is wary of Nikita Whitlock and the Wake Forest defense. PHOTO: Robert Willett
CHAPEL HILL — Media members earlier this week had a chance to catch up with Blake Anderson, the North Carolina offensive coordinator, after a practice. Anderson, of course, was happy with how the Tar Heels fared in week 1. But he still found plenty of flaws with the offense during that 62-0 victory against Elon.
Anderson’s offense will face a more difficult task this weekend at Wake Forest.
Here’s what he had to say about that, and a variety of other topics:
Q: What stands out about Wake Forest’s defense, overall?
A: They play extremely hard. You’ve got guys flying around all the time. Very active up front. Their nose guard (Nikita Whitlock), it seems like he’s playing three different positions. You can just tell they’re well-coached, and they don’t hurt themselves. They’ll make you make plays, and make you be patient. And the main thing is just watching how fast and how hard they play. It’s a group of guys, [that] you can tell they’re playing together.
Q: Whitlock is undersized, only about 5-10 or 5-11, but what makes him so difficult?
A: Well, if he didn’t play as hard he played, maybe it wouldn’t be that big of a deal. But I’m telling you, it looks like he’s playing three or four different spots. He’s just so active. He’s obviously good at what he does. In their scheme, they let him have a lot of range to spin and change gaps and move. He’s quick. He’s extremely quick. He’s obviously very powerful. So for a big, tall [offensive lineman], he can get underneath the pads, and he can also beat you with quickness. Every time you look up, he’s in the backfield, which creates negative plays … so it’ll be a huge challenge for our guys up front.
Q: What are the differences in going against a 3-4 defensive scheme, which you’ll see against Wake?
A: There are subtle differences in terms of that as opposed to the four-down [linemen]. Obviously some things have to change, but … we don’t have to make drastic changes. I’ll just kind of tweak things a little bit. And mainly, again, we’re our own worst enemy on offense sometimes. So it’s more about us just doing what we have to do and what we’re supposed to do to not create issues for ourselves.
Q: Against Elon, how difficult was it to call off the dogs, so to speak, and not be as aggressive in the second half?
A: Well, not so much call off the dogs for me, but the chance to just continue to do what we do offensively with young guys that might not get that chance later, with your number two quarterback, with some o-linemen that might end up having to win a game for you on the road. Obviously, running up the score is never our intention – but [it was] more about just staying balanced and throwing the ball on early downs and letting some guys make some mistakes. So that part of it is extremely hard. It’s frustrating, because you just – you don’t get that opportunity very often. You’re normally fighting for your life every week and when you get it and you can’t use that opportunity, it’s a little frustrating. But the head man says call them off, call them off.
Q: Freshman receiver Quinshad Davis had only one catch last week but it was a great one. What have you seen from him so far?
A: I see he’s going to be a very, very good player. Really raw right now. Eager to learn. Knows football pretty good. Has a pretty good energy, and is a competitive guy. So I think you’ll look up mid-season, or late season, and you’ll see him really contribute. Many even earlier than that – would be great. But right now, it’s just happening really fast, so we’ve got to be careful about how much we ask him to do and when we ask him to do it. But he’s going to be solid for us.
Q: Getting back to this week, what specifically stands out about Wake scheme-wise that’s going to be a challenge?
A: A lot of movement. A lot of movement. They’re all over the place up front. It’ll be a real challenge for the o-line. They play a lot of different coverages in the back end. They don’t get stuck in one thing, so it’s just going to be a challenge for the quarterback to see when they rotate … there’s some man, there’s some zone. And they’re so active, in my opinion, up front, with the nose guard and the movement. Our guys up front will have a definite challenge just because [Whitlock] has got so much range and so much freedom to spin, and change gaps … he’s a tough guy to handle.
Q: You guys kept it so simple against Elon, but do you get a little deeper into the playbook in game two?
A: I don’t think we’re ready at this point, with it being so new, to get too far away from the comfort level of what we know, which is, honestly, relatively small. So we’ll tweak some things and try to get outside that a little bit but for the most part we’ve got to focus on playing fast, being fundamentally sound and doing what our base system tells us to do. And then be real careful about how far we get away from that. So we don’t make mistakes, we don’t really play into the defense’s hands. So we’ll be careful.
Q: Still, despite the desire to keep things simple, your quarterback did catch a pass in the first game.
A: Yes he did. Hey, we can have a little fun. We can have a little fun. He has no yards after the catch, but he did make a catch. You know, these guys work extremely hard. So when you do something fun to shake things up, obviously if it creates an explosive play that’s a plus, if it gets people in the stands, that’s another plus. So there’s a lot of reasons why we do it. If nothing else, it’s an opportunity to have a big play – and quit hearing Bryn [Renner] talk about how good of a receiver he was back in junior high.
Q: With regard to the pacing on offense, will it be possible to reach the desired pace this season?
A: I don’t know that we’ll ever get there. Maybe it’s just because I just always think we can play faster. We can definitely improve in a manner that can create some issues for the defense. I was probably still telling our guys at Southern Miss after four years of doing it that we weren’t playing fast enough. I don’t know. But I really think we can make some strides. There’s some key things that we can fix that our just from habit of being in one system and going to another. And a comfort level that comes with just being under fire. So I definitely think we can improve. I don’t know if we’ll be a finished product by the end of the season but we can definitely get to the point where we can put some pressure on the defense that we’re not ready to do yet.
So there you have it. Thanks to Blake Anderson for his time.