Five things to watch: Beware of the Dogs, Tar Heels

Here are five things to watch as UNC (7-3) takes on undefeated Citadel (10-0) in a 3:30 p.m. kickoff at Kenan Stadium

Christine T. Nguyen—The North State Journal
North Carolina quarterback Mitch Trubisky (10) is sacked by Duke linebacker Ben Humphreys (34) during the first half of the NCAA college football game on Thursday

The North Carolina football team takes a rare late season break from ACC competition on Saturday to take on The Citadel at Kenan Stadium. Although the game won’t affect the Tar Heels’ slim — though still mathematically possible — chance of winning a second straight Coastal Division title, it does give them an opportunity to put last week’s disappointing rivalry loss to Duke behind them and move on. Here are five things to watch as the Tar Heels (7-3) take on the undefeated FCS Bulldogs (10-0) in a 3:30 p.m. kickoff at Kenan Stadium:Beware of the Dogs It would only be human nature for UNC to take a game against an FBS opponent lightly, especially when it’s squeezed into the schedule between two rivalry games. But the Tar Heels could be in trouble if they let that happen. The Citadel is 10-0 and ranked sixth in this week’s FBS poll. The Bulldogs have already wrapped up the Southern Conference championship and a berth in the postseason playoffs in their first season under coach Brent Thompson. They also have a history of knocking off FBS teams, having upset South Carolina in Columbia a year ago. “This is an undefeated football team that has a lot of things going for them,” UNC coach Larry Fedora said. “They run the ball very, very effectively. When they do throw it, they hurt you with it. They eat the clock. They limit the possessions you get offensively, so you better be very effective with your possessions. “If you watch them on defense, they’re in the right place all the time and they do a great job of making plays. We will need to play really well in all three phases of the game to be successful. I can assure you The Citadel is not going to come in here and feel intimidated by any means. They’re coming in here expecting to win a football game.”Limiting their options The Bulldogs are a triple option team that averages 359.9 yards per game on the ground, which presents an inherent danger to a UNC team that ranks dead last in the ACC against the run. What makes them even more dangerous is that their depth at the running back position allows them to have fresh legs in the game at virtually all times. The Citadel has four ballcarriers averaging better than 60 yards per game — led by quarterback Dominique Allen and fullback Tyler Renew — and three others averaging at least 30 per game. If the Tar Heels have one thing going for them in trying to stop, or at least slow the Bulldogs, it’s that they just faced a triple option team in Georgia Tech two weeks ago. “Any time you get extra time against the triple option, an offense you don’t see as much and you have to be real disciplined with your eyes and communication,” safety Donnie Miles said, “it definitely helps.” As much as the concepts are similar, The Citadel’s triple attack isn’t exactly the same as the one run by Georgia Tech. The Bulldogs run what is known as a flexbone, which according to Fedora, features “quite a few” conceptual differences. Especially in the passing game. “It’s not like we take the Georgia Tech game plan and go in there and play against them,” Fedora said. “They don’t throw the ball a lot, but when they do it’s pretty effective (because) you’ve got everybody trying to stop the option.”Elijah’s coming? The Tar Heels, obviously, feature a more balanced attack than that of the The Citadel. But while they have one of the nation’s premier passers in Mitch Trubisky, who has thrown for 3,004 yards and leads the ACC in passing efficiency, they also feature an elite rushing threat in junior Elijah Hood. Although Hood got off to a slow start, in part because of nagging injuries, he has returned to form of late while averaging 117 yards in his last three games. And yet, he is averaging only 13 carries per game, significantly less than when he rushed for better than 1,463 yards a year ago. His lack of work has been especially noticeable in the second quarter, a period in which he has only one carry in the last two games combined. Running backs coach Larry Porter offered no explanation for why the Tar Heels are using such a potent offensive weapon so sparingly. “In terms of touches, it’s all about what the game dictates,” Porter said. “If we could call a run and the defense gives us the opportunity to throw the ball, that’s what we’re going to take.” From the sound of things, though, UNC might make more of an effort to get the ball in Hood’s hands on Saturday. “Right now he’s starting to get back into his rhythm,” Porter said. “Each game he’s gotten better and better. Thi