ACC football notebook: UNC embracing speed

The Tar Heels lost key players, but are handling the speed of Larry Fedora's offense better this spring.

Heads were spinning every day during North Carolina’s spring practices this time a year ago.

With then-new coach Larry Fedora on hand, the Tar Heels were transitioning from a pro-style offense to a fast-paced spread that was uniquely different in almost every aspect of how an offense is orchestrated and executes.

Still, the Tar Heels ended up putting together a pretty solid season, going 8-4 and finishing eighth nationally (second in the ACC) in scoring more than 40 points per game. UNC reached the 60-point mark twice.

Practices are smoother this time around. UNC lost a healthy handful of important players on both sides of the ball, but that hasn’t slowed the team’s process. Most of the Heels knew what to expect when camp opened, so there’s much less explaining from coaches, and now older players can help teach the newest ones.

“We’re what two, three weeks in and you can tell a huge difference from last year,” said sophomore linebacker/bandit Shakeel Rashad. “Everyone’s getting older, stronger, faster, more comfortable with the schemes. Now we’re ready to go out and play and make some plays.”

Fedora isn’t easy to please. He even found things to complain about after those 60-point efforts last fall, one of which occurred in a driving rainstorm. But even he’s pleased with the progress.

“Everybody understands what we’re doing,” he said. “Now it’s mastering your craft. It’s perfecting what you do and not just trying to learn what you do.”

Yet, Fedora also believes in constantly tweaking his schemes to best suit the personnel. Thus, the staff has replaced some things it did last fall with some new looks, so while the team is further along than last April there’s still enough newness to stagnate and slow overall progress.

“We’ve taken out a few things that we don’t feel like we’ll be successful with and we added a couple of things we think can enhance the offense,” Fedora said. “That’s an ever-changing, always evolving scenario.

“You know we’ll look at it after spring ball. We’re doing some things right now that we may not do during fall camp because we may not like the way it looks so we may take it out.”

UNC’s spring game in April 13.

Maryland’s mountain view

Maryland’s football program hit the road this past weekend, once again showcasing itself to a different part of the state in an attempt to drum up support and gain needed exposure.  

The Terrapins held a scrimmage at Middletown High School in Middletown, Md., which is about 67 miles from College Park.

“It was a great day, great weather,” Maryland coach Randy Edsall said. “Coming out here you get the scenery and you can see the mountains and hills. There was good work today. ... It was a good turnout.”

The biggest news coming out of the scrimmage was the performance by redshirt freshman Joe Riddle, who attended rival Linganore High School. Riddle didn’t play last year, but in Saturday’s scrimmage in front of a crowd of 1,700, he ran for more than 100 yards, including a 50-yard touchdown burst.

Edsall was quite pleased with Riddle but also the improvement of the defense, which returns six starters from a year ago.

“One of the things the defense felt last week like they didn’t perform to the standards that they have and they wanted to change that,” the third-year coach said. “I think those guys are really starting to settle in.”

Edsall noted the defense is ahead of the offense, if for no other reason than there is leadership on the defensive side of the ball. The offense is still searching for a leader and more.

The Terrapins scrimmaged a week earlier at Dunbar HS in Baltimore. It is the first time the program has ever left campus to practice or scrimmage during the spring. Maryland’s spring game is Friday, April 12. The Friday date is a new trend in college football.

Yellow, er, Grey Jackets

One of the upsides of Georgia Tech’s 21-7 pummeling of Southern Cal in the Sun Bowl, aside from evening its record at 7-7 and saving the ACC the embarrassment of having a team that played in its title game close with a losing mark, is that it was something Paul Johnson’s team can build on.

The Yellow Jackets closed with two quality performances in their loss to Florida State in the ACC championship game and then in beating the Trojans. Before that, they went a long stretch without playing well.

Even more encouraging is that many of the same Jackets will suit up this season, so optimism should run fairly high on The Flats.

Only Texas (393), Mississippi (365) and Duke (364) have more combined starts on their current rosters than Georgia Tech’s 361. Incidentally, following the Jackets are East Carolina (355), UNLV (346), Stanford (336), Arizona (336), Rice (334) and Virginia Tech (331).

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