Obviously this is a strange play. It is not often you a player knocked down prior to the snap unless a defensive lineman egregiously jumps offsides. As you note from the title of the YouTube video, this has been viewed by Duke (and NCSU fans natch) as just more evidence of the incessant cheater-ness spewing from the cesspool of immorality in Chapel Hill.There is zero doubt in the minds of most anti-UNC folks this was an intentional shot taken by a UNC player because cheap shots and breaking the rules is the very essence of what UNC is about or some dumb crap like that.
Larry Fedora was asked about it in his press conference on Monday and stated it was not malicious or intentional on Rashad's part. Fedora said Rashad was late coming onto the field and simply rushing to get to his spot. My take follows closely to Fedora's but let's break down the video shall we?
UNC is shuffling personnel and Shakeel Rashad comes running onto the field late. In doing so he is making a bee line to his position behind the defensive line which naturally takes him very close to where Conner Vernon is standing. If you watch the video, you will note that about the time Rashad reaches Vernon, the Duke wide receiver puts his foot back to set himself for the play. In doing so Vernon puts his foot directly into Rashad's path. Rashad makes contact with the foot, loses balance a bit, lowers his shoulder and hits Vernon who falls to the ground. It should be noted that Rashad doesn't just keep running and assume his position, he slows down and turns to look at what happened not even making it to his spot on the field. It appears to me(biased as I am) that Rashad seems surprised and as the training staff comes on he walks towards the sideline to see what has happened to Vernon. I can't be sure but it seems to me had he meant to hit Vernon he would have gone to his spot and paid not a lick of attention to Vernon after the hit. Instead he stops and looks in Vernon's direction for several seconds. There is no "high fiving" with his teammates, no winks to the sideline a la Creighton basketball, nothing in his reaction that would indicate he was trying to hurt Vernon.
The problem here is fans assume players carry the same hostility for rival players as they do. Fans also forget players are human too and make human mistakes which I think this is. Besides that, unless you have evidence to convince me Rashad went running onto the field thinking, "I am going to knock #2 on his ass" I am going to give him the benefit of the doubt with one caveat. It is possible that Rashad,once he tripped, didn't do enough to get himself out of the way(thought it was pretty bang-bang.) I would allow that Rashad should have been more careful in being that close to an opposing player. Anything beyond that is the assigning of malice based solely on the fact this guy wears a school logo people have sworn to hate with every fiber of their being. Which should shock absolutely no one.