Thursday was a typical practice for the North Carolina football team. Training Camp is over. Classes have started. The offense still hasn't picked who's starting at quarterback or half of the offensive line. The special teams unit hasn't even decided on a placekicker. The defense, on the other hand, is mostly settled on who's starting, and is as confident as ever about their prospects.
Practice Thursday was nothing these Tar Heels haven't seen before. Except, with the season opener against California less than 10 days away, now it was time to start scouting the Golden Bears.
"We've started to implement a little bit of a game plan today," coach Larry Fedora said during media availability after practice. "Just give them a little bit each day and try to get some extra work on it as we go."
Fedora said the information was basic to start, with the offense not receiving any information in the game plan sessions that wasn't already something they'd worked on in camp. With all the new faces on the offensive side of the ball, Fedora said that surface level start to game planning allowed for the offense to do "alright" on the first day.
"It's the typical first day of install, and we didn't really give them that much," Fedora said. "It wasn't much of a learning curve for them today. I thought they did okay."
On the other side of the ball, junior defensive tackle Aaron Crawford said that the first game of the season gives you a few extra days of prep scouting wise, which really allows them to focus on tiny details that could make a big difference come kickoff.
"We focus on two of their big personnels: the blocks that they play out of and the plays that they play out of them," Crawford said of what the defensive line unit looks at when scouting opposing teams.
But that extra time to prepare for the season opener is not always as useful as it may appear. Crawford noted that Cal has a new coaching staff under first-year head coach Justin Wilcox. Beau Baldwin, a former FCS champion as the head coach at Eastern Washington, is the new offensive coordinator, while Steve Greenwood, via Oregon, is the new offensive line coach.
All of those new faces on the coaching staff can make it difficult to predict what the Golden Bears are going to run come September 2. Will it look similar to the 2016 Cal team, or will it adhere more to Baldwin's scheme at Eastern Washington? What about Greenwood's blocking patterns from Oregon?
"We're watching all different teams, different schemes," Crawford said, noting that they also have access to Cal's spring game film. "It probably is harder to scout, because they're bringing all this stuff in and you really don't know how much it's going to carry over."
UNC will continue to game plan building up until next weekend, most notably with a mock game this Saturday, where the team will simulate a game day experience in nearly every way, from the pregame meal and meetings, to the communication of plays from the press box to the sideline to the field. At some point, they'll have to make decisions on all the position battles still going on this late.
But as Crawford noted, when the ball is snapped, all of this preseason's work just becomes part of the past.
"All we can do is get prepared for what we think they're going to do, because at the end of the day, we're going to have to strap it up and go out there play anyway and adjust to what they're doing," Crawford said. "(The scouting) doesn't really matter too much, because we're going to go out and we're going to dominate."