The North Carolina and South Carolina teams have speed and talent on the offensive side of the ball at their disposal heading into the Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas on Saturday, Dec. 20. But, at least on paper, the North Carolina squad has a clear advantage on defense led by five-star defensive end Donte Moss and Rivals250 defensive backs Josh Hunter and Terry Shankle.
Offensively, the South Carolina team certainly has playmakers. Rock Hill (S.C.) South Pointe athlete Stephon Gilmore is a dual-threat in every sense of the term and could give the North Carolina defense fits with his quick feet and athleticism. St. Matthews (S.C.) Calhoun County wide out Alshon Jeffrey is as dominant a one-on-one target as there is in the country. Throw in Bennettsville (S.C.) Marlboro County wide out Kinsman Thomas and Rock Hill, S.C., standout Asa Watson and the passing game is formidable. However, what appears to be the strength of the South Carolina offense could play into the hands of the North Carolina defense.
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It's clear that North Carolina has the edge in the secondary with Hunter, from Charlotte (N.C.) Mallard Creek and Shankle, from Norwood (S.C.) South Stanly. Hunter, whether he plays cornerback or safety, has the size at 6 feet 2 and the athletic ability to match up with Jeffrey, who is a big target at 6-3. And Shankle plays bigger than his size. But the huge advantage the North Carolina secondary has is in the ball skills department. Both Hunter and especially Shankle will come down with any errant throw and Statesville (N.C.) West Iredell's Quan Rucker isn't shabby either when it comes to playing the football. Gilmore isn't someone who projects as a quarterback at the next level so if he throws any ducks, watch out.
The talented North Carolina secondary will be aided by a dominant front seven which matches up very well against a South Carolina offensive line that has a few stars but lacks depth. North Carolina has great size up the middle with 6-foot-3, 285-pound Jared McAdoo from Chapel Hill, N.C. and 6-foot-7, 330-pound Travis Bond from Windsor (N.C.) Bertie. And you can bet the aforementioned Moss, a 6-foot-5, 245-pound athletic freak, will be rushing off the edge in passing situations. South Carolina has a formidable trio up front in Greenville (S.C.) Christ Church tackle J.K. Jay, St. Stephen (S.C.) Timberland guard Quinton Washington and Gaffney, N.C., big man Denzelle Good, but can they handle the inside-outside power and speed of North Carolina to keep Gilmore clean?
One area offensively where South Carolina might have an edge is in the running game. Jay, Washington and Good are all solid run blockers and players don't come much faster than Sumter, S.C., scat-back Roderick McDowell. If South Carolina can spring McDowell loose in space, he could be a nightmare for North Carolina's big linebackers. Matthews (N.C.) Butler 'backer Hawatha Bell and Charlotte (N.C.) South Mecklenburg's Spencer Shuey are both strong and physical moving forward but they could struggle in space against McDowell. And if Gilmore free-lances as expected, he's also very shifty in the open field.
While the North Carolina defense is very strong, the South Carolina defense is certainly no joke. The concern however has to be up front where the North Carolina offensive line and a thunder-and-lighting running back group could dominate. The strength of the North Carolina offense is in the trenches led by Fayetteville (N.C.) Jack Britt offensive tackle Xavier Nixon and Kernersville (N.C.) East Forsyth tackle David Collins. The interior line is also impressive with Bunn, N.C. center Ty Howle flanked by Asheville (N.C.) T.C. Roberson guard Nick Allison and Rocky Mount, N.C. big man Whit Barnes. And don't forget Ahoskie (N.C.) Hertford County monster Will Simmons who could play guard or tackle. The North Carolina team boasts two speedy running backs in Shelby, N.C., waterbug Larry Raper and Lewisville (N.C.) Mount Tabor athlete Hunter Furr as well as battering ram fullback Tyler Shatley from Connellys Springs (N.C.) East Burke.
North Carolina simply has too much depth up front and talent in the backfield for a South Carolina defensive line led by Florence (S.C.) West Florence stud Malliciah Goodman. Greenwood, S.C., star Sam Montgomery, listed on the South Carolina roster as a linebacker, had better be utilized as a down lineman on passing downs to get a pass rush. And Goodman's teammate, linebacker Avery Murray, will need to have a big day and avoid the North Carolina offensive line at the second level.
The strength of the South Carolina defense is in the defensive backfield and some big plays could keep them in the game. Duncan (S.C.) Byrnes safety Justin Bright and Roebuck (S.C.) Dorman star Walt Canty will be ready to pounce on any mistake from the North Carolina quarterbacks. And Greenwood, S.C. standout D.J. Swearinger and Beaufort, S.C., athlete Jimmy Legree are also ball hawks and excellent in coverage. Central (S.C.) D.W. Daniel cornerback Jerrodd Williams adds speed and depth. Fayetteville (N.C.) Jack Britt quarterback Everett Proctor isn't a natural at the position and Vanceboro (N.C.) West Craven signal-caller Brett Mooring has thrown his share of picks during his career.
The secondary will have to keep things in front of them facing North Carolina speedsters Jheranie Boyd and Corey Gattis. Boyd, from Gastonia (N.C.) Ashbrook, is one of the fastest players in the country and Gattis, from Durham (N.C.) Hillside, is as shifty as they come in space. However, you have to give the edge to the South Carolina secondary here based on depth and playmaking ability.
All in all, the game itself should be a good one but it is clear that the North Carolina defense could be the difference, at least on paper. However, as we all know, games aren't played on paper and anything can happen. Depth on both sides of the ball may be on the side of North Carolina, but one or two big plays on either side can break open the game.