Where: Carter Finley Stadium, Raleigh, NC
When: Saturday, November 5th, 12:30 PM
TV: ACC Network
Records: UNC 6-3, 2-3 ACC; NCSU 4-4, 1-3 ACC
Time to put up or shut up.
We can certainly have a debate about the wisdom of Everett Withers broaching academics during rivalry week based on the recent NCAA investigation. What we probably can all agree on is how refreshing it was to have the UNC coach treating this game like it really matters. During the past four years Tom O'Brien has owned the stage in this rivalry by virtue of going 4-0 against UNC and his willingness to take shots at the Tar Heels when it suited him. Now Withers has the chance(perhaps his only one) to end the losing streak and answer the Wolfpack on the field.
UNC's best option lies with the offense having the kind of game it had last week versus Wake Forest. The truth is the Tar Heel defense is going to have some lapses. NCSU will put some points on the board but providing the Tar Heel front seven can get their share of hits in on NCSU QB Mike Glennon there should be enough stops to give the UNC offense opportunities. If that happens and UNC takes care of the football the Bryn Renner-Gio Bernard-Dwight Jones combination should be enough against an average Wolfpack defense. The key in all of this is the turnover margin and UNC's ability to hold onto the football versus forcing turnovers. This area has been famine or feast with the Heels. They are either turning it over in bunches(Rutgers and Clemson) or forcing miscues in bunches(ECU and Wake Forest.) With UNC's defensive woes in the secondary, the last thing you want is giving Glennon more shots.
Special teams play could also prove crucial. NCSU's T.J. Graham returned a punt for a TD against UNC a year ago which really dealt the Heels' confidence a blow in a game UNC had been leading. Graham is dangerous and the Heels kicking game is somewhat suspect. Keeping the ball out of Graham's hand should be a focal point for the secondary and the kick coverage teams. Without Casey Barth, UNC will not get much in the way of field goals which also put pressure on the offense to deliver in the red zone.
Needless to say this game will be played at a high emotional level. Both teams will be amped and the concern in these types of situations is the emotions get the best of the players. Riding a huge emotional wave can propel players to a higher level or cause them to press too hard. There is also the issue of coming out with too much hype only to come back down the earth as the game progresses with the opposing team simply weathering it. The team which harnesses the emotion and raises their level of play will be at an advantage.
Can UNC finally get it done against Tom O'Brien? I think so and if they do, the added bonus is it could very well put O'Brien's job in jeopardy since NCSU chances of making a bowl will be almost gone.
UNC 35 NCSU 24