Series Record: This is the first ever meeting between North Carolina A&T and North Carolina.
Getting To Know N.C. A&T
The Aggies enter the second week of the season looking to maintain the momentum they created in a 61-7 drubbing of Division II opponent Shaw last weekend. A&T posted 413 yards while allowing just 81 yards in the victory.
The Aggies are led by a familiar face in Chapel Hill in former UNC assistant coach and All-ACC defensive lineman Rod Broadway (1974-77). Broadway has posted a 29-17 record as the Aggies’ head coach and picked up the 97th win of his coaching career in the opener against Shaw. He’s turned around a program that was saddled with NCAA sanctions due to low graduation rates when he took over in 2011.
The Aggies went 9-3 in 2014 (6-2 MEAC), clinching a five-way share of the MEAC Title. The Aggies missed out on the FCS Playoffs, however, losing out in a tie-breaker to Morgan State. Junior running back Tarik Cohen was named Co-Offensive Player of the Year for the MEAC. The Aggies averaged 32.3 points per game while allowing 13.9 points per game in 2014.
Offensively, the player to watch for the Aggies is the aforementioned Cohen. He rushed for 106 yards and two touchdowns in A&T’s season opener and is the focal point of Broadway’s offense. Cohen is the MEAC’s preseason offensive player of the year.
Quarterbacking the offense is redshirt freshman quarterback Lamar Raynard, who threw for 188 yards and three touchdowns in his debut in blue and gold. His lone mistake was costly, however; he threw one interception, which Shaw returned for its only touchdown of the game.
Junior Denzel Keyes emerged as one of the Aggies’ biggest receiving threats against Shaw, catching six passes for 119 yards and two touchdowns. Redshirt sophomore wide receiver Caleb Gabriel also played impressively in the season debut, making three catches for 32 yards and a touchdown, and returning a kickoff 92 yards for another touchdown.
Broadway has built his success at A&T on his defenses. In his first four seasons in Greensboro, the Aggies ranked top-20 nationally in total defense and top-25 nationally in run defense. That trend carried over to the Aggies’ impressive debut as they did not give up an offensive touchdown. Shaw’s only points of the game came on the aforementioned pick-six of Raynard.
The heart of A&T’s defense resides at its linebacker position, led by 5-foot-9, 244-pound Denzel Jones, who led the team with six tackles, three tackles for loss and a sack in the opener
Rover Landis Shoffner and cornerback Tony McRae pace the secondary. Shoffner, a 6-foot, 186-pound senior, led the Aggies with 86 tackles in 2014, and opened up the season with three tackles and a sack against Shaw. McRae intercepted five passes in 2014 and picked up where he left off against Shaw, recording a pick and a tackle.
“He’s an extremely dynamic player. He’s got great speed, great acceleration, great movement, great vision. He can really make you miss at any time, and he can take it from goal line to goal line.” – Larry Fedora on Cohen
“It’s really not about them. Everything we do every week is really down to us and what we are doing, and how we execute. Obviously they’ve got some really good players, you know their running back is probably going to be arguably the leading rusher in the history of the school, and their wideout (Denzel Keyes) is 6’4, great athlete, dual-sport athlete, so they’ve got other good players, but those two stand out when you watch the film immediately, no matter who they play.” – Gene Chizik
Match-Up To Watch
Cohen vs. UNC’s Run Defense
As well as UNC’s defense played in the season-opening loss to South Carolina, the Gamecocks still managed to churn out 254 rushing yards and a touchdown on 47 carries. As bad as the 2014 defense might have been, the Tar Heels held seven opponents below the 220-yard mark on the ground.
UNC head coach Larry Fedora and defensive coordinator Gene Chizik both have stressed the need to get better at stopping the run this week, and while A&T is a FCS program with an undermanned offense against a P5 opponent, Cohen is a legitimate threat in the backfield.
He’s one of the best running backs in the FCS, and will provide a quality test for a Carolina defense that allowed 5.4 yards per carry on Sept. 3. Cohen will specifically test the defensive line, which has emphasized stopping the run above all else this offseason.