It was five years ago that Carolina last beat N.C. State. Already-fired John Bunting was on one sideline, and soon-to-be-fired Chuck Amato was on the other; the game in question set two sputtering offenses against one another, and the UNC defense carried the day. Before the year was out, both teams would have new coaches, and the four games since have been a series of frustrations for the Tar Heels.
Duenta Willaims made waves on Twitter this week when he attributed the four losses solely to Russell Wilson. State fans were quick to point out that Wilson was only quarterback for the last three, but the general idea holds. State has twice won on Wilson's heroics and fluke plays – a fourth down tipped touchdown pass in 2010, and two long touchdown passes in the second half in 2009. (All three of those, by the way, went to Owen Spencer, a guy who had 15 touchdowns in his career, four of them against Carolina.) Wilson's first UNC game was, of course, an absolute disaster, with six Tar Heel turnovers and an offensive explosion from the then-freshman quarterback. The fact that it has not been avenged is an embarrassment.
Wilson has departed for the greener pastures of Wisconsin, and his replacement Mike Glennon does not have his mobility. This change under center isn't the cause of State's frustrations this season, but it will make the job of the Carolina defense a little easier. Glennon is a decent passer who likes to spread his passes to many targets. The most prominent of these is junior T.J. Graham, who has twice the receiving yardage of anyone on the team. Still, seven stet players have double-digit receptions, compared to only four for UNC, so look for State to try to spread the secondary thin and get a chunk of yards that way. Especially since they haven't found a running back to replace the injured Mustafa Greene, with most of the carries being split between James Washington and Curtis Underwood. UNC's rushing defense has slipped in a couple of recent games, but should force State to go to the air early.
What has really hampered the Wolfpack is their defense. They're near the bottom of the ACC and have given up 30+ points in four games this season. Their one bright point on this side of the ball is turnover generation. Their interception rate is tops in the conference, and overall they have a +7 turnover margin. Look particularly for David Amerson and Brandan Bishop, one and two on the ACC interception list, to make plays on the ball. Considering that turnovers have killed the Tar Heels during this four-game losing streak – they've coughed the ball up 11 times, including an embarrassing six in the 2008 rout – this is reason enough for Tar Heel fans to be worried. If UNC, already the most turnover-prone team in the conference, is going to lose this game, this will be how. It helps that Bryn Renner has only thrown three picks in the last five games, all against Clemson, but still a concern.
And that's the long and short of it. Take care of the football, and don't give up the fluke special teams plays they have in years past and UNC should win this easily. They're the better team, and State is falling apart. But the better team hasn't always won in this series of late – twice during this streak UNC has finished with a better record than the Wolfpack, who have only broken .500 once under Tom O'Brien. This is the last chance for the remnants of the Butch Davis coaching staff to get one, just one, win over the folks in Raleigh. And it's time to put these five years behind us.