Butch Davis watched film of The Citadel's game at Clemson last season, and was impressed by what he saw of the Bulldogs.

"Andre Roberts catches your attention instantly," North Car- olina's football coach said this week. "... And from a quarterback perspective, they did an outstanding job against Clemson. They threw for 300 yards in that game. Their schemes are sound, their techniques are sound, all the things they tried to do were sound."

Of course, the Bulldogs lost that game, 45-17.

And that illustrates just how much of a challenge The Citadel faces today as it opens the 2009 season against another ACC opponent, the 21st-ranked Tar Heels.

The Citadel faces deficits in size, speed and depth against the Tar Heels, just as most FCS teams (limited to 63 scholarships) do against 85-scholarship FBS squads.

So how are the Bulldogs to fare better today than they did last year at Clemson and at Florida, where they lost 70-19?

"We played Clemson on the same sort of timetable, early in the season," Citadel coach Kevin Higgins said. "And we moved the ball extremely well against them. But in the end, they scored more than we did. Florida was just a different beast altogether.

"North Carolina is a very talented team, a top 20 team. And when you talk about the scoreboard, things like taking care of the ball become very important. If we can control the ball, have no turnovers, win the penalty battle and make some big plays on offense, then we have a chance of being in the game.

"If we allow those things to get out of control, get behind and have to throw the ball against that defense, it could be a long day."

That North Carolina defense returns nine starters, including All-ACC performers in tackle Marvin Austin, linebacker Quan Sturdivant and cornerback Kendric Burney. The Tar Heels ranked seventh in the ACC in scoring defense (21.2 ppg) and 11th in total defense (365 ypg) last season and aim for much better numbers this season.

The Citadel will have to attack that defense with two walk-on freshmen at running back in Remi Biakabutuka and Bucky Kennedy. That will make getting the ball to Roberts, fellow receiver Kevin Hardy and even backup quarterback Miguel Starks even more vital.

"Their defensive line is big, their linebackers are big, their DBs move well," starting QB Bart Blanchard said of UNC. "What do you expect -- they are an ACC team."

North Carolina's West Coast-style offense was second in the ACC with 27.7 points per game last year, but lost big-play receivers in Brandon Tate, Hakeem Nicks, Brooks Foster, Cooter Arnold and tight end Richard Quinn, as well as some offensive linemen. Quarterback Tyler Yates is back after missing five games with a broken ankle last year, and junior tailback Shaun Draughn (6-0, 205) is aiming to be UNC's first 1,000-yard rusher since 1997.

The Bulldogs hope that a revamped 4-3 defense, featuring 6-0, 290-pound Terrence Reese and 6-4, 280-pound Kyle Anderson at tackles, can keep them close.

"If we can stop the run, force them to pass and get them in some long third-down situations, I think we have a chance," said Bulldogs defensive end Dewitt Jones.

Whatever the score, Higgins said opening up with North Carolina has been good for his team.

"It brings a sense of urgency to everything you do," he said. "It started in the spring, in the early morning hours of June and July. Now, it's here."