December 15, 2001

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.

South Carolina's Offensive Specialty Players Versus North Carolina's Linebacking and Secondary

Every 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.

With 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 nation.

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 drills.

Though 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

Category
N.C.
S.C.
Size
- X -
Speed
- X -
- X -
Athleticism
- X -
Intangibles
- X -
- X -
Overall
- X -

Size: South Carolina - The South Carolina receivers have at least a two inch advantage over the North Carolina defensive backs.

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 Williamson.

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 Gaither

WRs Kelvin Grant and Troy Williamson against DBs A.J. Davis, Cedric Holt and Calvin Lowry.




 

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