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UNC – Duke Game Preview

Thursday Night Under the Lights in Durham

Duke v North Carolina
The Victory Bell after last year’s win.
Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

It was a bitter pill to swallow, but for a brief moment last Saturday, UNC fans were hoping Duke could pull off the upset against division-leading Virginia Tech. The Blue Devils could not make it happen, and things are back to normal in the Tar Heel State.

It is Duke Hate Week as the #15 North Carolina Tar Heels travel to Durham on Thursday to take on the Duke Blue Devils. Coming off a solid performance against Georgia Tech, the Heels are looking to keep the Victory Bell and remain in the hunt for the Coastal Division championship.

North Carolina

Running back Elijah Hood led the way for the Tar Heels last week, as he ran for 168 yards and three touchdowns in UNC’s win over Georgia Tech in Chapel Hill. This was a part of the Carolina rushing attack that went for a season-high 283 yards against the Yellow Jackets, and accounting for five touchdowns. As evidenced by the loss against Virginia Tech, the passing game–and Elijah Hood–is vital for the Tar Heels.

Despite the impressive ground game, quarterback Mitch Trubisky still impressed with 329 yards and one touchdown through the air, and 44 yards and one touchdown on the ground. On the defensive side of the ball, Carolina gave up 518 yards of offense to GT, but recovered two fumbles, blocked a field goal, and made timely stops that kept the Yellow Jackets to 20 points.

The Duke defense held Virginia Tech’s Jerod Evans to 192 yards through the air, a season-low in non-hurricane football games. That means the UNC’s young offensive line will need to step up once again to provide time and protection for Trubisky.

In Duke’s game against Virginia Tech, a blocked field goal and return for a touchdown for the Hokies proved to be a critical play in their three-point victory. For the Heels, these types of defensive plays are occurring more often and at the right time of year. In the Georgia Tech game, a blocked field goal with 33 seconds left in the first half preserved a two-possession lead for UNC. Check out UNC sideline reporter Lee Pace’s tweet about blocked field goals:

We are seeing that type of effort from key defensive players like linebacker Andre Smith, defensive tackle Nazair Jones, and cornerback M.J. Stewart. These types of special teams and defensive plays can swing the momentum of a game and can make up for some deficiencies of the defense. Forcing turnovers will be critical in securing a road win against your rival.

Duke

The Blue Devils had a chance to beat the Hokies last week in Durham. They pulled within three with 7:10 left in the fourth quarter. Virginia Tech went three-and-out on their next drive, and Duke had the ball with 5:50 left. That drive ended with a punt from the Virginia Tech 47-yard line. Virginia Tech converted two third downs on the last possession of the game to run out the clock.

The Duke offense has struggled to get in the end zone this year. At 24.1 points-per-game, the Blue Devils are ranked 93rd in the nation in scoring offense. However, their defense has kept them in games this year, and with some more help on the offensive side of the ball, they could have won in their past three games. This includes a 24-14 loss at Louisville.

Freshman quarterback Daniel Jones has shown flashes of solid play this year, however interceptions have hindered his ability to keep scoring drives alive. He has thrown for 2,037 yards on the year with 11 touchdowns and nine interceptions. On the ground, he has gained 375 yards on 100 attempts with five rushing scores. His gritty play against Louisville showed that young Jones has big game potential.

UNC will win if they

  • Complete their game plan on offense
  • Win individual battles on defense
  • Execute their assignments on special teams

Duke will win if they

  • Limit UNC’s passing offense
  • Score early and disrupt Carolina’s defensive plan
  • Win the turnover battle