It’s that time of year again…time to make young Wolfpack fans cry.
It would always be great for us to beat the Wolfpack (4-5), UNC’s biggest football rival (as Duke continues to reject football as a sport), but above all this game is about keeping the Tar Heels’ (3-6) slim bowl hopes alive. It won’t be easy as the Heels search for their first road win against a suddenly hot Wolfpack team, who after a terrible start have won their last three games to return to the bowl bid discussion. (Although, it’s worth mentioning that Duke is the only ACC team that has been eliminated from bowl eligibility.) This game will go a long way to determining who will represent the ACC in either a bowl in an earthquake zone sponsored by a snack or a New Year’s eve game in Boise.
The key to this game will be turnovers. That may sound like such a simple concept, as there has been a direct correlation between lack of turnovers and wins for both teams:
UNC’s TO margin in their 3 wins: +2
UNC’s TO margin in their 6 losses: -11
NC State’s TO margin in their 4 wins: +6
NC State’s TO margin in their 5 losses: -17
So, this game could very easily come down to an ill-timed turnover. Hmmmm…
Yes, Pack fans. I am aware of the strong possibility that TA McClendon crossed the goalline on the previous play. However, that doesn’t diminish his inability to secure the football in the picture you see above. (Photo courtesy Andrew Synoweiz)
Or, it could be far more complex.
Offensively, these teams are almost evenly matched. Both the Tar Heels’ and the Wolfpacks’ passing attacks rank in the top half nationally in yards per game; however, T.J. Yates, Daniel Evans and Harrison Beck have combined to throw 30 interceptions in 18 total games. It’s important for both teams to have an efficient passing game. For the Heels, this means that Hakeem Nicks, Brandon Tate, Brooks Foster and Greg Little must get good yardage after the catch and take the pressure off of T. J. Yates to make bad throws. For the Wolfpack, this just means that Beck (2 TDs, 9 INTs) cannot step onto the field. Without good passing the game could get ugly for one or both of these teams, whose rushing attacks are among of the nation’s worst (107th and 110th, respectively). UNC has yet to have a 100 yard rusher, or even a a back who has rushed for 75 yards more than once. So the difference could be which team can run the football well. Or more specifically, which defense allows their opponent to have a good day on the ground.
Speaking of which, defense could be where the Tar Heels have an advantage today. UNC ranks 28th in the nation in total defense; NC State, just 71st overall, and 100th in run defense. However, the Wolfpack have an upper hand in passing efficiency defense, ranking 18th overall to 68th for the Heels. It thus becomes vitally important for Carolina to have a good running game today.
Butch Davis is still looking for his first road victory as the head coach at UNC, and the Wolfpack will give their best effort of the season in order to beat their hated neighbors from Chapel Hill and keep their bowl hopes alive. Still, I’m confident about our chances on Saturday. Unless, of course, Tom O’Brien struts the sidelines with a pencil mustache and an oversized red blazer. In which case, we’re doomed.