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UNC vs. Duke: Three Things to Watch

Opportunity awaits for the Tar Heels.

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

The North Carolina Tar Heels are the lone team in the Coastal Division without a conference loss. There is a golden opportunity for Carolina when they head up the road to Wallace Wade Stadium this weekend. But Saturday evening in Durham will not be a game in which UNC can just do the minimum to retain the Victory Bell.

For a team picked in the cellar of the ACC in the preseason, Duke has started the year much better than expected as they have already surpassed their win total from last season. In their overtime loss last week at Georgia Tech, the Blue Devils showed some heart in their two-touchdown fourth quarter to force extra football.

Needless to say, the Tar Heel faithful are feeling better than they were a couple of weeks ago. As this team continues to grow, here are a few things to watch this Saturday.

D-Line Improvements

One of the most impressive moments of the season so far was Carolina’s goal line defense against Miami, especially when they were stopped three times from the one-yard line. The Hurricanes had 24 rushing attempts and only managed 42 yards on the ground, including just seven yards gained on the ground in the second half.

Sure, part of why they ran so much was the mind-boggling pass defense, but the defense still deserves credit for stifling the run game.

Can the d-line continue with its improved play?

The Duke offense struggled through three quarters last week against Georgia Tech, only managing two field goals during that time. One of their two fourth quarter touchdowns was on a punt return. Duke gained 142 yards on the ground last week, compared to 136 through the air.

In spite of this offensive effort last week, the Blue Devils are still averaging 190 yards per game on the ground, placing them fourth in the ACC and 34th in the nation in rushing. Combined with their effectiveness on the ground, Duke has allowed just eight sacks on the season, good for 32nd in the nation.

Expect the Blue Devils to center the offensive game plan on running the ball in the hopes of turning the Carolina defense into what was seen from the start of the season through the Notre Dame game.

If UNC can hold their own, pressure on the quarterback will become imperative for the defensive line. Once again this week, the defense will have to do it without defensive tackle Ray Vohasek.

Second Half Adjustments

Without the defensive effort of the Tar Heels, the second half of the Miami could have been a recipe for disaster due to the impotence of the offense. After two straight games of coming out flat in the second half, the third quarter of the Virginia Tech game was hopefully where the team would turn the corner.

Although not as bad as the Georgia State and Notre Dame games, it was not a good second stanza for UNC last week. The defense did their job coming out of the locker room. The offense needs to regroup this Saturday. Drake Maye managed just 56 passing yards in the second half last week and each quarter had a one field goal made by Carolina.

The third quarter was particularly dreadful, with just 59 total yards, no third down conversions, and an interception. Miraculously, UNC scored a field goal and the defense posted a shutout.

Let’s face it: the defense will not keep posting shutouts in the third quarter. When that time comes, the offense must step up. On Saturday, take a look at how the offense adjusts for the second half and if this dangerous offensive unit can put up some points.

Don’t Let Him Have a Day

The pass defense remains an enigma. I just do not understand how the talent and potential of this unit can play so poorly. It is more head-scratching with how most of the front seven performed in the last two games.

Miami’s quarterback was 70 yards from setting the all-time single-game passing record for the Hurricanes. And that was one game and one bye week removed from him being benched.

This pass defense needs to find a way to keep Duke quarterback Riley Leonard from having a day. Since passing for 324 yards against Kansas, he has managed only 129 and 136 yards in his last two games.

With recent trends like that, there is just a gut feeling that Leonard will go for 300+ Saturday night. Don’t let that happen. Please.