Battle of the Baby Blues: UNC vs. Citadel Preview
They call it Tar Heel (and not Bulldog) blue for a reason.
All-time series: UNC has won all three meetings, including a 45-14 win in 1986
2008: 4-8 (2-6 in Southern Conference play); 0-2 vs. FBS teams (45-17 loss @ Clemson and a 70-19 loss @ Florida)
Head Coach: Kevin Higgins
Quotable: (from the Citadel Media Guide)
“Prior to his appointment at the helm of Bulldog football, Higgins served as the quarterbacks coach for his first three years with the Lions and was responsible for the tutoring and developing of Detroit’s first-round draft pick, quarterback Joey Harrington.”
Now there's a résumé builder...
1) The Citadel had a respectable 4-2 home record in 2008. However, more fans attended their 70-19 loss at Florida than all of the Bulldogs’ home games combined.
2) When the Citadel orders its uniforms from Nike, it orders the color “Carolina blue.”…Don’t believe me? http://www.postandcourier.com/news/2009/sep/01/citadel-blue-over-tar-heels-size-speed/
Citadel Offense vs. North Carolina Defense
Although the Citadel has not made it to the FCS playoffs since 1992, the Bulldogs have actually had a pretty solid track record on offense in recent years. Coordinator Dave Cecchini led the Bulldogs to the 4th best scoring offense in the nation in 2007, and it was no fluke. He’s also produced some monster offenses as offensive coordinator at Harvard (seriously, Harvard) and Lehigh.
Cecchini tries to employ a balanced, spread scheme—exactly the kind of scheme that allows speedy, but less talented FCS teams to hang around FBS opponents (Remember McNeese State?). In 2007, Cecchini’s balanced offense went to Madison and put up 4 TD in a 45-31 loss to a 9 win Wisconsin team.
As bad as the Citadel team was in 2008, the offense wasn’t to blame, converting an impressive 43% of third downs and finishing top 50 in the nation in both scoring offense (27.3 points per game) and total offense (364.3 yards per game). Arguably the 3 most important pieces of last year’s offensive unit return in QB Bart Blanchard, WR Andre Roberts, and LT Daniel DeHaven.
That being said, Cecchini is linguini thin at a number of key positions after a rough offseason for the offensive unit. Last year’s leading rusher Asheton Jordan (849 total yards, 4 TD) was dismissed from the team for an honor code violation while 2nd leading rusher Terrell Dallas spent the offseason recovering from a torn ACL suffered in a 70-19 loss to Florida. Additionally, the Dogs graduate 3 starters from last year’s offensive line while also losing All-Southern Conference TE Taylor Cornett and 3 of the top 5 receivers on the 2008 squad.
R-SOPH QB Bart Blanchard (2436 yards, 19 TD 11 INT; 130.9 passer rating)
Blanchard is a solid FCS quarterback with a lot of experience and a pretty decent skill set. As a sophomore in 2007, Blanchard had an eye-popping 162.98 passer rating. That, and the fact that he managed 279 passing yards at Clemson last fall make me think that Bart can definitely sling the rock around. At 200 lbs, he’s rushed for about 200 yards in each of the last two seasons (including 27 yards against Clemson), so at the very least, he’s a moderate running threat. Blanchard has had some turnover problems against Florida and Clemson (who wouldn’t though?), and he cannot afford to make such mistakes in Chapel Hill on Saturday.
Backup Cam Turner missed all of Spring Practice with a torn labrum, but he’s a capable replacement if Blanchard goes down. Turner had a respectable outing, going 15-30 with 169 yards, a TD and 2 picks in a game at Florida last fall.
The Bulldogs aren’t going to scare anyone at the tailback position this fall. After the loss of Asheton Jordan, it’s almost certain that Cecchini will employ a running back by committee approach. However, one glance at the Media Guide makes the running back committee seem a lot more like a TORN-ACL support group. Along with SOPH Terrell Dallas (torn ACL vs. Florida), expected contributors R-FRESH Rickey Anderson (season ending knee injury in week 5) and SOPH John Shaw (2008 knee injury) will also be going from crutches to rushes in 2009, and that has to be a concern for Cecchini. 5’6 165 lb. Christian Graham was listed as the backup during Spring Practice and should also see time.
9/2/09! UPDATE: Citadel RBs Rickey Anderson, Terrell Dallas and Van Dyke Jones will not play in the game due to various injuries. That means that the Citadel’s top two RBs on the depth chart will be walk-ons: 5’8 180 lb RB Remi Biankabatuka (the younger brother of former Michigan RB Tim Biankabatuka) and 5’10 195 lb freshman Bucky Kennedy.
The Tar Heels struggled to defend the read option in last season’s opener vs. McNeese State, so expect the Bulldogs to try that route in the early going. I don’t expect the Bulldogs to have any luck on the ground though with two inexperienced walk-ons sharing the load in the backfield. Plus, the Tar Heels’ slimmer, deeper defensive front has enough size and strength advantages to push the Citadel offensive linemen back and shrink the running lanes. It would be a miracle if the Bulldogs could rush for 100 yards. Coach Kevin Higgins would probably be satisfied with 20-35 carries and 100 to 140 yards on the ground.
Wide Receiver/Tight End
SR- WR Andre Roberts (1334 yards, 14 TD)
Andre Roberts (5’10 185 lbs) reminds me of a more dangerous version of former Appalachian State speedster Dexter Jackson. He’s racked up almost 3,000 career receiving yards in 3 seasons, and he’s earned 3rd team and 1st team All-America selections in 2007 and 2008, respectively. You might be tempted to downplay those numbers due to the lower competition that he faces in FCS play, but he had 153 yards and 2 TD on 9 catches last year in Death Valley against a very good Clemson defense. Roberts is the kind of talent (rated by many as the #1 FCS WR prospect in the 2009 class) who could spark an upset, so the Tar Heels must be aware of him at all times.
The Tar Heel secondary had most of its problems against bigger wide receivers in 2008. However, the small and quick Golden Tate of Notre Dame lit up the Tar Heel defense for 121 yards last year, and Roberts presents similar problems for us. Fortunately for UNC fans, Roberts doesn’t have a lot of help on the outside. The Citadel’s 2nd leading returning receiver had just 86 yards in 2008.
R-JR- WR- Scott Harward (1 catch for 4 yards)
Harward is another small, quick receiver for the Bulldogs.
SOPH WR- Luke Caldwell (4 catches 86 yards, 2 TD)
Caldwell didn’t see a lot of action last year, but he did have a stellar 52 yard, TD performance at Clemson. At 6’1 205 lb, he’s the biggest of the Citadel wide-outs.
TE- BJ Phillips
Phillips committed to UNC as a 3 star QB recruit in 2006. However, things didn’t work out in Chapel Hill for the 6’6 250 lb prospect, and Phillips found a new baby blue team to play for in the Citadel Bulldogs. Phillips is a great athlete, and he shouldn’t be much of a drop off from 2008 All-Southern Conference tight end Taylor Cornett.
Phillips is unproven at the collegiate level. Given the limited role of the TE in Citadel’s offense, don’t expect much from Phillips here. UNC’s dynamic trio of linebackers certainly have the size and speed to keep him in check though, if the Bulldogs do choose to utilize the former Tar Heel QB recruit.
The Bulldogs have an offensive line situation quite similar to that of the UNC buffet busters. They return a key leader at left tackle, one player with experience at multiple positions, and a few newcomers. Leading the group is 6’5, 290 lb 5th year senior Daniel DeHaven, a first team all-Southern Conference selection at left tackle. At center, the Bulldogs will start Mighty-Putty linemen Tommy Suggs, whose experience at all 5 positions on the line allows him to plug holes anywhere on the front. Cory Pope and Colton Clifton will man the guard spots after a few spots of playing time in the past few seasons, while former defensive linemen Lincoln Kling will play right tackle at just 273 lbs.
The Tar Heel defensive line should be able to overpower the Citadel offensive front. Tar Heel DE EJ Wilson (280 lb) is a tough, bull-rusher who actually outweighs Kling at right tackle. DTs Marvin Austin (300 lb) and Cam Thomas (320 lb) should give the guards and centers headaches on the interior as well. Also, watch for 5 star recruit Donte Paige-Moss to use his speed on the outside to outmaneuver the Bulldog offensive tackles. As if all of that isn’t bad news enough for the Citadel, the Tar Heels will play at least 10 defensive linemen in this game, wearing down the already thin Bulldog offensive line.
Isaac Collins’ Bulldog defense returns 10 starters, but is that a good thing or a bad thing? Last year’s unit had a lot more bark than bite, finishing 103rd in the nation in scoring defense (32.8 points per game) and 90th in the nation in total defense (389.4 yards per game).
While the Bulldogs do sport two All-Southern Conference linemen in Terrence Reese and DeWitt Jones, they’re small in the front 7 where they were manhandled against Clemson (252 yards, 7.4 yards per carry) and Florida (394 rush yards, 10.6 yards per carry). Despite its smaller size, the front 4 was not speedy enough to pressure the quarterback or force a lot of turnovers (They were 102nd in the nation in forced turnovers, 93rd in sacks, and 111th in tackles for loss.). Making matters worse, the secondary allowed opposing QBs to throw for a Tim-Tebow-esque 26 TD and just 3 INT.
This year’s Citadel defense should be better, almost by default. 8 of the 10 returning starters are upperclassmen.
SR DE- DeWitt Jones (66 tackles, 7.5 TFL, 4 sacks)
rJR DE- Eric Clanton (22 tackles, 5 TFL, 2.5 sacks)
rFR DT- DeMarrio Sims (redshirted in 2008)
SR DT- Terrence Reese (49 tackles, 8.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks)
On paper, this is the Bulldogs’ best matchup against an inexperienced UNC offensive line. Reese and Jones are proven playmakers, but can anyone else step up to take the pressure off the Bulldogs’ all-Southern Conference duo? Freshman DeMarrio Sims is just 255 lbs at defensive tackle, and should be tested early by a heavy dose of inside running plays. Clanton and Jones are solid at the end position, but they will struggle in the strength department against Tar Heel tackles Kyle Jolly (6’6 300 lb) and Mike Ingersoll (6’5 300 lb). The Citadel will struggle to pressure TJ Yates with the front four. It’s also worth noting that Tar Heel short yardage specialist Ryan Houston is bigger than both of the Citadel’s defensive ends. There’s the difference between FCS football and big boy football right there.
SR MLB- Jordan Gilmore (93 tackles, 2 TFL, 1.5 sacks, INT)
SOPH SLB- Tolu Akindele (20 tackles, TFL, sack)
JR WLB- Mel Capers (63 tackles, 1.5 TFL, INT)
All three linebackers have ample starting experience. However, as with the defensive line, this unit is small and vulnerable against bigger FBS opponents. Gilmore and Akindele both stand just 5’10, while Capers is listed at 5’9 175 lb, or in Tar Heel terms, about the size of CB Kendric Burney.
This trio had almost no success getting to the QB in 2008, and I don’t expect that to change on Saturday. Look for Tar Heel TE Zack Pianalto and H-back Christian Wilson to take advantage of major size advantages in the intermediate passing game. On the ground, RBs Ryan Houston, Shaun Draughn, and Jamal Womble will all punish the linebacking corps. if (and this is a major if with this Tar Heel offensive front) the Heels offensive line can get them to the 2nd level.
SR CB- Ryan Jones (37 tackles, TFL)
JR CB- Cortez Allen (39 tackles, 2 TFL)
SOPH S- DeMontrell Smith (36 tackles, TFL, INT)
Smith made the freshman All-Conference team in 2008.
JR S- Demetrius Jackson (45 tackles)
The Tar Heel receiving corps. might be under scrutiny, but it’s certainly not undersized. Almost every Tar Heel wide receiver is large and physical, and that could be an issue for the Citadel. Cortez Allen is big and strong at 6’2 185 lb, but the other defensive backs all give up 5 to 8 inches to the UNC receivers.
Kicker: rSOPH Sam Keeler 12 of 19 FG (long of 38 yards); 36 of 41 PATs
Punter: r-FRESH Cass Couey
WR Andre Roberts led the nation in punt returns last year at 19.3 yards per return. He took three punts back to Casa Grande, and he has the speed to make a few more trips there this fall.
Roberts is especially scary to Tar Heel coaches, but he’s far from the only Special Teams concern. First of all, Casey Barth has very little experience as the kickoff man. He is not known for his strong leg, so most of the time, the Citadel will have a chance to return kicks. Second of all, the Heels will be breaking in a new punter in Grant Schallock or CJ Feagles in the opening game vs. Citadel. Neither one has played in a meaningful college game situation. If they take longer than 2.2 seconds to punt, Citadel special teams demon Mel Capers (9 career blocked kicks) could make them pay with a block. The injuries of Tar Heel special teams captains Ryan Taylor and Matt Merletti also are major blows to the Tar Heels special teams play and could factor in the success of the punt and punt coverage teams.
However, the Bulldog kicking game could face some problems of its own. Sam Keeler made just 12 of 19 FG with a long of 38 yards last year. He also missed 5 extra points. It’s also worth noting that the Citadel will be breaking in a new punter in Cass Couey. If the pressure slows down his delivery, Bruce Carter (5 blocked punts in 2008) could smother another punt for a huge momentum changing Tar Heel touchdown.
Citadel Game Plan
If I were Citadel Coach Kevin Higgins, I would pray (or dance) to the rain gods for a sloppy, muddy, ugly field of play. Then, I’d throw every possible blitz at the inexperienced Tar Heel offensive line. I would stack everyone at the line of scrimmage to completely neutralize the Tar Heel running game and force QB TJ Yates to complete longer passes to a young group of receivers. Higgins certainly doesn’t have FBS talent on this team, but this same strategy worked for WVU, NCSU, Maryland, and Virginia Tech last year. And let’s not forget—it almost worked for FCS opponent McNeese State in last year’s 35-27 loss in Chapel Hill.
On offense, I’d get the ball to 1st team all-America WR Andre Roberts as much as possible, whether that means employing the Wild Bulldog formation, lots of bubble screens, or consistent down field targets—I’d try to match up Roberts on CBs Jordan Hemby and Charlie Brown as much as possible because CB Kendric Burney is a shutdown guy on the other side.
I’d run lots of read-option and lots of mis-direction running plays to test whether or not all of this offseason yammering about the improved conditioning of the Tar Heel defensive line had any truth to it. Rolling out QB Bart Blanchard as much as possible would be another effective way to see how many rolls the UNC front four still has under their jerseys after a tough offseason training program. In the early going, I’d try some fireworks (flea flicker, halfback pass, double pass) to snag an early lead and silence a notoriously subdued Kenan Stadium crowd. After all, if the Bulldogs get down early and are forced to throw to come back, things will get Al Groh-sweatshirt ugly in a hurry.
North Carolina Game Plan
If I’m UNC Defensive Coordinator Everett Withers, I keep it simple in the opener. I wouldn’t want to show any of the new Tar Heel blitz packages until the Sept. 12 game at Connecticut, so I’d stick to the vanilla, tampa-2 and cover-3 defensive schemes we ran so often last year and let the defensive line try to take over the game. I’d let my players know that this is the type of game that great teams dominate at the line of scrimmage and I’d challenge them to create pressure and take away the run. The USCs, the Floridas, and the Virginia Techs of college football do not lose focus in games like this—instead, they use it as an opportunity to get better.
If Citadel WR Andre Roberts makes some big catches early, I’d try to double team him because there are no other proven receiving threats on the Bulldog roster.
Offensively, I’d preach a similar message. When great teams have major size and talent advantages, they don’t lose focus (again: see last year’s 35-27 win over FCS McNeese St). They stick it to the opponent. Techsideline.com, the premiere source of Virginia Tech football coverage, has called the UNC offense “finesse,” and justifiably so. Until the Tar Heel offensive linemen take games like this personally and start punishing opposing defensive lines, the Heels will not be a legitimate ACC title contender.
In the passing game, I would use this opportunity to see what we have. The coaches have talked about a diversification of the passing game—meaning more throws to the backs and tight ends—and this could be the perfect game to see that growth. H-Back Christian Wilson and TE Zack Pianalto have major size and speed advantages against the short Citadel linebackers, and they might be very effective working across the middle of the field.
The Citadel wins if…
- UNC QB TJ Yates goes down early with an injury, and backup Mike Paulus struggles under pressure. The Citadel stacks 8 men in the box, forcing Paulus to throw downfield to an inexperienced group of receivers.
- QB Bart Blanchard plays the game of his life, finishing with a few TDs and no turnovers. Citadel WR Andre Roberts scores through the air and on a punt return while the Tar Heel receivers struggle heavily without Hakeem Nicks and Brandon Tate.
- The Tar Heel defense gets torched by the read option, giving up 200+ yards rushing.
Tar Heel Newcomers to Watch
#98 DE Donte Paige-Moss- Moss was the the prized recruit of the 2009 Tar Heel recruiting class. Rated as the #17 overall prospect in the nation by Rivals.com, Moss is a talented, speed rushing end who could help inject some life into the Tar Heels pass rush. He’s currently listed as 3rd on the depth chart at Right DE behind Michael McAdoo and Robert Quinn.
#26 CB Mywan Jackson- Jackson has snuck up to 3rd on the depth chart at cornerback. This speedy Floridian could see time in nickel and dime packages.
#3 WR Josh Adams- Once rated as a 5 star WR recruit by Rivals.com, the 6’4 Adams enrolled last spring to get a head start on learning the offense. He’s apparently learned quickly because he’s 2nd on the depth chart at wide receiver, and already one of the Tar Heels most dangerous threats in the passing game.
#34 WR Johnny White- I’m sure you remember Johnny White, the former running back (399 yards rushing in 2007) who’s seen his name shuffled all over the depth chart. He’s not a freshman, but I included him on this list because his speed and ball skills have landed him the #2 receiver slot behind Greg Little. He’s also the starting kick returner, where he averaged over 25 yards per return last fall.
NOTE (9/3/09): Dwight Jones will be having arthroscopic knee surgery after experiencing pain in his knee earlier this week. He will not play, meaning that freshman Josh Adams will start.
Tarheeltds’ Score Prediction:
UNC 37 Citadel 9
For an in-depth breakdown of the Tar Heels offense and defense, check out some other posts from Tarheeltds!
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