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UNC Opponent Preview: Undefeated Citadel Represents Legitimate Test

UNC hosts The Citadel for a 3:30pm kickoff at Kenan Stadium on Saturday (ACC Network Extra).

Series Record: UNC leads the all-time series, 4-0

Last Meeting: UNC defeated The Citadel 40-6 on Sept. 5, 2009

Getting to know the Bulldogs

The Citadel (10-0, 8-0 Southern) comes to Chapel Hill this Saturday looking to keep its perfect season alive. The Bulldogs are under the tutelage of new head coach Brent Thompson, and the first-year head coach has his team ranked No. 6 in the FCS.

The Citadel has already wrapped up the Southern Conference regular season title and has clinched a playoff berth. The motivation for the Bulldogs this week? Show that they are dangerous not just at the FCS level, but that they can also compete against FBS opponents.

Offense

The Bulldogs have run rampant over all their competition this year, literally.

Thompson’s team leads the FCS in rushing offense, averaging 359.9 rushing yards per game. The key to that prolific success on the ground for The Citadel is the triple option. They run the flex bone offense so efficiently that their passing game is almost nonexistent – quarterback Dominique Allen is only averaging 8.8 passing attempts per game. The real danger in the Bulldogs rushing attack is in its depth. They have seven offensive players averaging over 30 rushing yards per game, and four averaging over 60.

The running back corps is headlined by senior running back Tyler Renew (93.8 ypg, 4 TD), who at 5-foot-11, 217 pounds can be considered a human wrecking ball. In the flex bone formation, Renew sits in the fullback position, but don’t let that fool you – he has breakaway speed when he gets free. He’s the workhorse of the offense, averaging almost double the amount of carries of any other rusher on the team. Thompson uses Renew to pound the ball up the middle on the dive continuously throughout the game in an effort to wear down the defense and open up the opportunity to expose the edges with runs to the outside with speedier backs.

Allen’s limited passing game was already mentioned, and the reason for that is that the junior is just a running back lined up under the center. He’s the third leading rusher on the team (62 ypg, 7 TD) and leads the Bulldogs’ offense in touchdowns. With little incentive to pass the ball, Allen has more freedom and creative ability with the ball in his hands than a normal quarterback in the triple option. He trusts his own decision making skills with the ball in his hands and seems to always make the right call when choosing to pitch the ball or take it for himself. At 6-foot-1, 217 pounds, Allen is a hard rusher to take down, and uses his physical frame to get to the edge space created by the aforementioned Renew.

When it comes to the “explosive play” department, don’t look any further than running backs Reggie Williams and Cam Jackson. Both backs are averaging over seven yards per carry and have exposed any holes that a SOCON defense provides. The Bulldogs rank 24th in the FCS in total offense (427.2 ypg) and 32nd in scoring offense (30.7 ppg).

Defense

The Citadel has had very little trouble stopping opposing offenses. Whether it’s through the air or on the ground, the Bulldogs field a defense that has stifled the rest of their FCS competition. Just like on offense, it all starts with depth. Thompson’s defensive unit has 23 players who have played multiple snaps in all 10 games this season, which is a testament to the team’s health as much as it is to its depth.

The Citadel’s defense has just as many playmakers on the front seven as it does in the secondary, providing a well-balanced mix that that doesn’t show many holes. The most dangerous member of the Bulldogs secondary is junior defensive back Dee Delaney. He leads the team in interceptions (4), but what really makes Delaney special is his awareness of where is on the field at all teams. He has exceptional eyes to read the quarterback and is able to close in on space very effectively, allowing him to break up several passes with his precision.

Senior linebacker Joe Crochet is a force in the Bulldog’s front seven. He leads the team in tackles per loss (13) and at 6-foot-2, 249 pounds is one of the most physically imposing threats on the field. Speaking of tackles for losses, The Citadel gets a lot of them. The Bulldogs rank 12th in the FCS with 7.7 TFL per game. While one may attribute it to physical dominance, it’s really the speed that the defense possesses that helps them getting behind the line of scrimmage so consistently.

Notable Quotes

“That’s a top-25 program, no doubt about it. They’re extremely good on offense. They do a great job on defense, they’ve played some triple-option teams. They’re physical on both sides of the ball, they can run the football as well as throw it extremely well. So we’ve got our work cut out for us no doubt.” – The Citadel head coach Brent Thompson on UNC

“It’s depth and its speed. You’ve really got to play an exceptional game. You can’t be sloppy, you can’t have penalties, you can’t turn the ball over. There’s very little margin for error. We’ve got to do what we do. We’re not going to change who we are in a matter of two or three games. We’ve got to do what we do on the offensive side and on the defensive side.” – Thompson on the difference between playing an FBS team and an FCS team

Matchup to Watch

Bulldogs’ Rushing Attack vs. UNC’s Perimeter Defense
UNC’s run defense was exposed by the Duke Blue Devils last week in the team’s 28-27 loss. It wasn’t Duke’s ability to power the ball up the middle, either, but the ability to get to the edge and find wide open space to run. Duke quarterback Daniel Jones was consistently able to get to the outside and put up 94 rushing yards on defensive coordinator Gene Chizik’s defense. Entering this week, the Tar Heels have to address this problem or they may be in more of a fight than expected with the Bulldogs. The matchup will be interesting, because Allen loves to run the ball off his tackles, but with no real passing threat, UNC will be able to play closer to the line of scrimmage. It will be up to UNC’s defensive ends and linebackers to read their cues and limited exposure on the edges.


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