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UNC vs. Duke: X-Factor

Rivalry games can be won or lost with momentum.

NCAA Football: North Carolina at Miami Rich Storry-USA TODAY Sports

When the North Carolina Tar Heels battle to keep the Victory Bell for the fourth straight season, the ebb and flow of momentum are much more pronounced.

Just think about 2019 versus Duke: one of only two career fumbles lost by Javonte Williams happened in the closing minutes of that game. Carolina had just a three-point lead with too much time on the clock for the archrivals.

Momentum swung in their favor, and the Blue Devils marched 92 yards down the field to the UNC two-yard line on the brink of a final second win.

Chazz Surratt’s goal line interception moved the pendulum back to the Tar Heels, and the Victory Bell has not left Carolina’s possession since that time.

Last week against Miami, there were turnovers that could have completely changed the game.

In the second half, the UNC offense struggled to make things happen, especially down the field through the air.

The interception to start the second half was certainly not ideal for Carolina.

However, the UNC defense was able to respond. The turnover on downs was another momentum shift and the Tar Heels got points on the next possession.

After trading punts, the Hurricanes were putting together a good drive until another turnover close to the red zone.

This was opportune timing for Carolina, and the Tar Heels did their absolute best at milking the clock. The immediate drive after the turnover was the second-longest in the new Mack Brown era and was the eventual winning scoring margin.

Sure, the UNC offense was not at its best in the second half, but Carolina made the best of these important moments in the game.

In a rivalry game, momentum is critical. How your team responds to momentum flipping in the other direction is even more important.

The surprising 2022 Blue Devils are coming off a disappointing loss last week and will be looking to make a statement against the team from down the road.

This week’s X-Factor is UNC’s response to adversity and shifts in momentum. If the defense continues to improve, especially during big moments, and the offense keeps putting some points on the board after those swings in momentum, a close rivalry game can shift in their favor.