Stanford defensive coordinator Lance Anderson probably breathed a huge sigh of relief after news broke that Tar Heels running back Elijah Hood would miss the Sun Bowl for undisclosed medical reasons.
The junior, who earned third team All-ACC honors as Carolina’s leading rusher this season, tallied a meager 858 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground. However, due to the unprecedented success of first-year starting quarterback Mitch Trubisky, co-offensive coordinators Gunter Brewer and Chris Kapilovic put the ground game on the back burner in favor of opening up the playbook in Carolina’s up-tempo spread offense.
With that in mind, it would seem normal for a home-run hitting back like Hood to experience a small dip in production. However, Hood probably didn’t expect his 2016 rushing numbers to be sliced almost in half after a breakout 2015 campaign (1463 yards and 17 touchdowns).
Still, a North Carolina backfield sans Hood is nothing to scoff at. The man replacing him, senior T.J. Logan, is just as dangerous. Even though he’s been used sparingly on offense (101 carries for 578 yards, 27 catches for 241 yards), the fact alone that Logan will be on the field is enough to keep the Stanford defense guessing on Friday.
Logan is a threat to score on every touch. A player manufactured as a CJ Spiller copycat, his combination of game-breaking speed and extraordinary vision has a toxic effect on opposing defenses. In addition, he makes defenses grasp at the air with his slippery cuts and motors ahead with at least ten different gears when he reaches the open field.
Through all of this, Logan’s primary asset may be his ability as a reliable receiver out of the backfield. If Trubisky can feed him the ball out near the sidelines with a convoy of offensive linemen out in front blocking, there is a great chance Logan will hit pay dirt.
If I were a Stanford defensive coach, I might try having either Dallas Lloyd or Justin Reid, who have both the coverage skills and the run-stopping physicality to match the Tar Heels’ lead man, shadow Logan. I would also dial up the exotic blitz packages. Logan seems to struggle in pass protection unless it’s a chip on the defensive end or outside linebacker before he skirts out into the flat.
As a unit, Stanford's defensive line is the real key here. If Solomon Thomas, Harrison Phillips and Jordan Watkins can neutralize the Carolina rushing attack, the Cardinal will have one less facet of the Tar Heel offensive blueprint to counter and contain.
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