The Heels rolled in the penultimate game of the regular season, beating The Citadel by 34, 41-7 on Saturday. The offense and defense each played very well as the Heels cruised to 8-3 on the season.
Offensive Line: 7
The offensive line displayed their superior physical gifts this week against The Citadel. In the run game, the Heels generated a great push up front, moving linemen off their blocks and getting guys into the secondary. Elijah Hood and T.J. Logan had plenty of room to run all afternoon because of the line’s excellent play. The linemen played within themselves the entire game and ensured that they were fundamentally strong to create room for the running backs.
In pass protection, the Heels put in a similarly strong shift on Saturday. Trubisky had plenty of time in the pocket on almost every play with the team giving him a clean pocket on the vast majority of looks. The Heels also played penalty free football on the offensive line on Saturday, an encouraging sign going into the season finale against State and the postseason.
Backs and Receivers: 8
T.J. Logan and Elijah Hood ran all over and through The Citadel on Saturday. The two running backs took over early and never let up Saturday. Hood ended up with 13 carries for 83 yards, a 6.4 average. Logan had a similarly impressive stat line with 4 carries for 23 yards, a 5.8 average. Logan also had a superb 23 yard one-handed touchdown pass. It was particularly encouraging for fans to see Hood turn in another impressive performance. Hood appears to be back to his high level of play from last season at this point. With Hood’s improved performance the Heels are in the position to succeed in the postseason for the first time in three years. Logan played well on Saturday as well, but he did put the ball on the ground. The two running backs have had a few issues with ball security throughout the season and it needs to be an increased area of focus in the next two games.
The wide receivers played well again on Saturday, continuing what has been a very solid season for the veteran heavy group. The highlight of the day for the group was the 72-yard touchdown for Ryan Switzer from Mitch Trubisky. Switzer had excellent separation all afternoon and put his speed on full display throughout the game. Switzer ended with 4 catches for 93 yards and a touchdown. The rest of the receivers played well Saturday but were not asked to do much, limiting their overall production.
Despite the fact that he turned in a three touchdown performance, Mitch Trubisky was decidedly average on Saturday. Trubisky was inaccurate by his standards, 11-20 for 184 yards. Trubisky seemed out of sync with his pass catchers all afternoon, missing some throws long and others short. He avoided any interceptions but he still threw a few passes that he should not have, particularly in the red zone. It should be noted that the throw to Switzer was delivered on a platter, but it was by far his best pass of the day. Trubisky really shone as a runner on Saturday, on the occasions where his receivers were fully covered he took off and ran effectively. He ended the day with 3 carries for 55 yards. If Trubisky continues to run well for the rest of the year, then the Heels will continue to have one of the nation’s most dynamic offenses.
Defensive Line: 8
The defensive line was the most impressive group for the Heels on Saturday. Against a triple option team, the Heels’ defensive line played a very good game. The line thoroughly occupied The Citadel’s offensive line throughout the contest. They got around the cut blocks and into the backfield routinely, forcing the Bulldogs to move away from the dive as part of their triple option. The strong play of the line allowed the linebackers to hit the edges against the pitch beyond just stopping the dive. The line play was the defensive highlight for the Heels and powered them to one of their strongest defensive performances of the year.
Against a triple option attack, the linebackers have a critical role to play. They have to fill gaps against the dive and get outside to prevent the pitch. Against the Bulldogs, the Carolina linebackers did all of that at a very high level. They charged up the field with conviction all afternoon moving up the field through holes in the line and laterally across the field to stop the pitch. The linebackers helped contain the run all afternoon and were a major reason why Carolina was able to hand a 10-0 team their first loss.
Defensive Backs: 7
The defensive backs had the least to do of any group on the defense due to The Citadel’s aversion to throwing the ball. However, they did come up with the team’s first interception of the year with Dominque Green’s pick-six. The defensive backs had a large responsibility against the run, and they played admirably in shutting down the options for the Bulldogs outside. The corners got around blocks on the outside and worked well with the safeties to funnel runners back towards help in the middle of the field. The defensive backs also recovered several fumbles to put the Heels in great field position throughout the game. Taken together, the defensive backs played well even though they did not need to have a large role in the game.
Special Teams: 6
T.J. Logan’s 100 yard kickoff return was the highlight of the special teams unit on Saturday. Outside of that play, the Heels did not particularly impress in the third facet of the game. Nick Weiler in particular played quite poorly. Weiler had a kickoff out of bounds and missed a 36 yard FG in what was an unexpectedly bad performance from the otherwise impressive kicker. Ryan Switzer also had a quality punt return called back due to a penalty which was relatively emblematic of a volatile day on special teams.
While the Heels were the obvious heavy favorite against The Citadel, the coaches deserve credit for helping Carolina recover from their loss against Duke. The coaches deserve further credit for their performance against both The Citadel and Georgia Tech this season. Carolina has historically struggled against the triple option but it seems like, with this coaching staff, the Heels have finally figured out how to confront this offensive scheme. As the Heels enter the final week of the season, they are once more in a position to potentially go to the ACC title game. Considering last season was the first time Carolina ever played for the conference title, this season has been relatively successful. The coaches deserve further credit for beginning to build a program in the aftermath of the academic scandal.