Where: Kenan Stadium, Chapel Hill, NC
When: Saturday, November 20, 12:00 PM
TV: ACC Network (Raycom)
Records: UNC 6-4, 3-3 ACC Coastal; NCSU 7-3, 4-2 Atlantic
Yeah, it matters.
For the first time in a long time, UNC and NC State meet on the football field with winning records and lots to play for. State controls its own destiny in the Atlantic Division; winning out guarantees a slot in the ACC Championship Game in Charlotte. UNC saw its Coastal Division dreams wither last weekend with a loss to Virginia Tech, but the Heels have still won six of their last 8 games and have bowl positioning to play for, not to mention pride as UNC has a three-game losing streak against the Wolfpack.
For the first time in Tom O'Brien's tenure in Raleigh, the Pack has stayed healthy and the results have shown on the field. State's starters have missed a combined three games this season, giving the Pack a lot of continuity. Russell Jesus Obama Wilson continues to lead a potent State offense but has also hurt the Wolfpack with inopportune interceptions, particularly in the end zone.
The key to State's turnaround this season, however, has been the play of its defense. Again, the oft-injured secondary has been whole this season and the addition of defensive wiz Jon Tenuta as linebackers coach added some aggressiveness to Mike Archer's defense (and lots more F-bombs to practice and meetings, no doubt). Meanwhile, all-world linebacker Nate Irving returned to the team after missing last season as a result of an unfortunate car accident and has played lights out, including setting an NCAA-record 8 tackles-for-loss last week against hapless Wake Forest.
The Tar Heels have continued to plug along despite the myriad of injuries and games missed for suspensions. Last week's second-half meltdown against Virginia Tech notwithstanding, T.J. Yates has led his team to bowl eligibility and until seven days ago was in the discussion for ACC player-of-the-year. He has done this despite losing for the season his top receiver in Zack Pianalto and his leading rusher in Johnny White. Dwight Jones had stepped in as a game-breaking wide-out, but was shut down against the Hokies.
Defensively, UNC has been vulnerable to just the kind of attacking passing game the Wolfpack and Wilson specialize in. The Heels tried to contain Tyrod Taylor in the first half with some success but as Carolina tried to turn up the pressure in the second half, the Hokies burned UNC over and over. The coaching staff on both sides of the ball will have to dial up something special to slow down State.
Two years ago, UNC was in a similar position, with a real chance to potentially win the Coastal Division, and a banged-up State team led by Wilson came into Kenan and embarrassed Carolina 41-10 in a game that still gives StateFan a thrill up their collective leg. With the shoe on the other foot, UNC hopes for a similar result, but the chances are slim. This has been a year that streaks have been broken - UNC won in Charlottesville, Miami beat UNC for the first time in four years - but this may not be the day Butch Davis finally breaks through against the Marine.
NCSU 28, UNC 27