No Room for Mistakes

If North Carolina is going to stop a repeat of the 66 points South Carolina
put up in 2000, they're going to have to slow down the explosive Palmetto State
offense. Sounds simple in writing, let's look at the key players and match-ups.

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South Carolina's Offensive Specialty Players Versus North Carolina's Linebacking
and Secondary
great offense needs a leader at the quarterback position and South Carolina
has just that with Anthony Johnson
(pictured). Johnson (6-3, 200 pounds) displayed a crisp arm, good mobility and
was the definitive leader of the offensive group of all stars. His athleticism
should come into play during the Shrine Bowl, where quarterbacks often have
to think on their feet after plays do not go exactly as planned. This could
provide for a coming out party for Johnson who has offers from Alabama and Middle
Tennessee State, and is certainly game. Other quarterbacks that will see time
are Justin Stepp and Andrew
Hewitt. Quarterback fans will be disappointed with the omission of S.C.'s
North/South All-Star Game's Offensive MVP, Josh
Harris, but rest assured North Carolina is very pleased. Harris' recruiting
is picking up with offers from Louisville and Akron already in.
Joining Johnson in the backfield are two speedy backs Reggie
Merriweather (4.5 forty) and Jamayes
Dixon (4.4 forty). At 5-9, 190 pounds, you would think Merriweather
would be a shifty small back with plenty of moves. Merriweather has the moves,
but the first thing you notice about this back with offers from Clemson, Florida,
Indiana, Michigan State and Wake Forest is how quickly he gets into the hole,
running north and south. Defenders who guess wrong, will be left behind in Merriweather's
dust. Dixon likes to see things develop in front of him and rely upon his speed
to get through when a hole opens up. Dixon will be a handful for outside linebackers
and cornerbacks in the open field on sweeps.
Merriweather and Dixon forcing North Carolina to respect the run, opportunities
will open up for Johnson to throw to his receivers. This is where it gets exciting!
Johnson has two big play wide receivers at his disposal in Kelvin
Grant (pictured) and Troy
Williamson. With Charles Ben
as a third option and the possibility of seeing Quinton
Teal at wideout, South Carolina has arguably the best foursome in the
Expect plenty of college coaches watching South Carolina's receivers of which
not one has given a commitment. As for who's the top prize in this group, it's
a toss up between Grant and Williamson. Grant, 6-2, 205, was explosive off the
line and looked to be the quickest player on the field in wet conditions. Though
he has good size, Grant used his speed more than his physical presence to gain
an advantage. Johnson and Grant connected on a couple long passes and had a
good rapport going. At 6'3, 195, Williamson appeared not only taller but physically
larger than Grant. Williamson is a smooth, agile receiver that moves faster
than he looks. Both receivers have visits set up for Clemson and South Carolina.
Grant also has interest in Georgia and Georgia Tech while Williamson has set
up a visit with Tennessee and is receiving interest from Georgia and Georgia
Tech. Expect to see each of these players to make a spectacular play.
Sure, North Carolina's defensive line with the likes of Broderick
Lowery and Jamil Smith
will play a part in slowing down South Carolina, but for this article we're
going to focus on the backers and secondary.
North Carolina's defensive leader is linebacker A.J.
Nicholson. At 6-2, 232 pounds, Nicholson uses his 4.4 speed to close
in on plays before they develop. This will be important in stopping the run
and screen passes (a long time all star game favorite). Longhorn fans will be
watching closely, as Nicholson lists Texas as his favorite with visits to Florida
State, North Carolina and Tennessee still left. Though North Carolina used a
three backer set in most cases, two other standout middle backers, Patrick
Lowery (offers from East Carolina and Duke) and Victor
Worsley (East Carolina commit), will rotate in/join Nicholson.
Omar Gaither (Tennessee
commit) highlights the outside linebacking crew. Gaither will need to carry
over the energy he displayed on the practice field to the game. The 6-2, 210
pound backer was certainly the most active player on the defensive side during
some of the top defensive backs are missing from this year's Shrine team, North
Carolina still has three players in the top 100 at their position on the roster.
A.J. Davis (pictured) seemed
shocked when I requested some of his time. "A.J. Davis? Not, Nicholson?"
Davis should be used to the media request. Currently ranked the No. 6 cornerback
in the country, the 6-0, 177 pound Davis ran a 4.3 earlier this year and currently
list Alabama, Tennessee, Florida State, North Carolina State and Notre Dame
as his final six. He'll need to use his 39 inch vertical to compete with the
taller South Carolina receivers. Six-foot, 180 pound Cedric
Holt (North Carolina commit) will line up at the other corner position.
With the some of the top safeties missing from the roster, Calvin
Lowry gets the nod. Lowry is a 6-1, 185 pound, Penn State commit who
runs a 4.4. Whether or not Lowry plays receiver or corner in college is still
questionable, but he looked like a natural at safety. If Nicholson was the captain
on the defense, Lowry was the field general showing a knack for being around
the ball and an ability to recognize plays while they're developing. On the
pass, Lowry has the ability to make some big plays, how well he supports the
run will be revealed during the game.
The Breakdown
Size: South Carolina - The South Carolina
receivers have at least a two inch advantage over the North Carolina defensive
Speed: Push - On paper, N.C. has Davis with a 4.3 and Lowry at 4.4,
but in pads the edge goes to the S.C. running backs and certainly Grant and
Athleticism: South Carolina - N.C.'s Lowry
showed enough athleticism to compete with Davis and Williamson. We know Nicholson
is a freak, but at quarterback, running back and receiver, S.C. is stacked.
Intangibles: Push - NC's Nicholson, Gaither and Lowry are always around
the ball. S.C.'s Johnson, Merriweather, Dixon, Williamson and Grant all have
big play ability.
Overall: South Carolina - The edge is slight,
but with weapons at every position it will be difficult for North Carolina to
shut down one aspect of South Carolina's offense without exposing itself to
a big play elsewhere.
Match-ups to Watch
RBs Reggie Merriweather and Jamayes Dixon versus LBs A.J. Nicholson and Omar
WRs Kelvin Grant and Troy Williamson against DBs A.J. Davis, Cedric Holt and
Calvin Lowry.