How the North Carolina Tar Heels perform against The Citadel Bulldogs this Saturday may determine the trajectory of their season. The Citadel’s triple option offense is the leading rushing unit in the FCS. Will the last-in-the-ACC rush defense step up to the challenge? If so, the Tar Heels will go into the final conference game of the season with some new confidence and continued hope for a shot at a conference title. If not, UNC will be on the ropes against another rival and stuck with a less-than-ideal venue for a fill-in-the-blank bowl game.
Even with the different scenarios moving forward, the worst thing Carolina can do is look past this game. The undefeated Bulldogs have a great running game and a defense that is ranked 11th in the FCS. Their defense can get to the quarterback and make plays in both the backfield and the secondary. The Tar Heels will need to be prepared and focused on stopping the run and regaining their flow on offense. It will be Military Appreciation Day for this 3:30 PM kickoff at Kenan Memorial Stadium:
Last week was a frustrating disappointment. There is not too much more than can be said. Missed assignments, failed opportunities, and being outworked individually led to the loss in Durham last Thursday. On Wednesday, UNC sideline reporter Lee Pace tweeted a quote from Tar Heel Defensive Coordinator Gene Chizik:
In the big moments, “players make those plays.” We have seen it this year against Pittsburgh, Florida State, and Miami. And in others, those big moments were big letdowns. Carolina needs to focus on individual assignments on defense rather than trying to do too much. A cohesive unit that takes care of their duties will be better able to take advantage of the big moment when it presents itself.
As for the offense, quarterback Mitch Trubisky looked human against Duke. Two interceptions, including one in UNC’s final drive late in the fourth quarter, showed how disruption at the line and lack of a true deep ball threat can hinder the offense. And after a 168-yard, three-touchdown rushing performance against Georgia Tech, running back Elijah Hood had just 75 yards on the ground. Hood will need to find a rhythm against The Citadel, and a few more touches would help, too.
Here is Carolina’s uniform against The Citadel, via UNC football equipment manager Jason Freeman:
This week's uniform combination for the Citadel at 3:30pm. pic.twitter.com/Kp2wRAUZNG— Jason Freeman (@UNCEquipment) November 17, 2016
The undefeated and back-to-back Southern Conference Champion Citadel Bulldogs will come into Kenan Memorial Stadium looking for the upset. First year head coach Brent Thompson has done an excellent job with The Citadel, and just this week was named a finalist for FCS Coach of the Year. Last year, the Bulldogs marched into William-Brice Stadium and beat South Carolina in Columbia. That was the same South Carolina team that beat Carolina in Charlotte. Needless to say, the Tar Heels cannot look past The Citadel.
Their triple option offense will challenge the struggling UNC run defense. Quarterback Dominique Allen and B-back Tyler Renew lead the way for The Citadel on offense. These two have combined for 1,496 of the team’s 3,599 rushing yards and 11 of the team’s 31 rushing touchdowns on the year. Outside of their two primary scoring threats, there are five other players with multiple rushing touchdowns on the year. Expect the Bulldogs to keep fresh legs on the field with an emphasis on wearing out Carolina’s front seven.
On the defensive side of the ball, The Citadel has a positive turnover margin, ranking 20th in the FCS at +7. Linebacker Joe Crochet is tied for first in the Southern Conference with two fumble recoveries, and cornerback Dee Delaney leads the SoCon in interceptions. As UNC fans saw last week, winning the turnover battle is critical for the underdog. Lastly, the Tar Heels will need to pick up on different schemes that the Bulldogs throw at them with their use of a bandit and rover. Mixing different packages may disrupt the offensive flow for the Heels.
UNC will win if they
- Contain the triple option offense
- Set the scoring pace and maintain it
- Avoid short, scoreless possessions
The Citadel will win if they
- Sustain run-heavy drives that end with touchdowns
- Force Carolina into an alternate offensive game plan
- Convert turnovers into touchdowns