The losing streak versus the Wolfpack is well documented. UNC has not beaten NC State since November 18th, 2006. That was one of John Bunting's final games as Tar Heel head coach. The Butch Davis Era followed Bunting and with him came the complete inability to win a game against the Tom O'Brien coached Wolfpack. The streak has moved from slightly annoying to incredibly troubling to "please make it stop!" It really has taken a life of its own to the point it no longer feels like UNC is trying to beat NC State but also the weight of the past five seasons. Also bearing down on UNC is the possibility of going 0-3 vs NCSU, Duke and Wake Forest.
Fortunately, UNC comes into this game with a new coach, staff and players operating with a different approach to this game than in past seasons. While Larry Fedora has been low key publicly about the rivalry, there are plenty of signs this game is being approached with the requisite level of intensity. Whether UNC shows said intensity in the first half is anyone's guess but the general acknowledgement of the rivalry's importance is clearly evident. The key now is ensuring that focus and intensity transfer to the field.
In real football terms, this is an interesting match-up on various fronts. NC State's defensive line is more than enough to challenge UNC's offensive line. It also raises questions of how UNC will run the football though it should be noted Giovani Bernard does his best work gashing a defense running outside the tackles. Still, Bryn Renner needs protections and UNC needs to be able to run inside some. If Renner is forced into bad throws, the Wolfpack secondary will make him pay. The advantage for UNC lies the chaos the spread offense/tempo can create. There is also Eric Ebron assuming Ebron has his head in the game. If he does, he could very well be the X factor that tips the scales in UNC's favor on the offensive side of the ball.
On defense, Wolfpack Mike Glennon is perfectly capable of standing tall in the pocket and completing pass after pass in the 5-10 yard range. If UNC is still tackling poorly those receptions could turn into 10-15 yard gains. That means, as much as possible, Glennon should be pressured. That is probably not as easy as it sounds. However, Glennon has the ability to pick UNC's secondary apart. If the Tar Heels can limit his effectiveness and contain NCSU's running game, the chances for a win improve dramatically.
All the rivalry and losing streak baggage aside, this game may be more about the current season. Zero wins against the other in-state ACC teams would not sit particularly well with the fan base nor should it. Granted it doesn't do much lasting damage(unless it happens more than once) but it's better to avoid that sort of thing in Fedora's first season. UNC doesn't have a bowl game to play for so while no one will call this the Heels' "Super Bowl" this win would provide that signature win to mark this season with.
UNC 38 NCSU 29