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2017 Opponent Previews: NC State Wolfpack

The Tar Heels close the regular season with a visit to their best buds in Raleigh.

North Carolina v North Carolina State Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

The North Carolina/NC State rivalry used to be fun. During my formative years, the games were competitive. The Charlotte barnburner in 1998 was followed by a 10-6 slog in 1999. Carolina’s post-9/11 triumph in Raleigh in 2001. The T.A. McLendon goal line stand in 2004. John Bunting’s triumphant send-off in 2006. And even some State wins interspersed (including the whole Tom O’Brien Russell Wilson streak).

At some point, the rivalry’s fun turned to hate. PackPride.com users have spent seven years sending FOIA requests and obsessively reading thousands of documents to find the key to the Death Penalty for Carolina sports, at the expense of supporting their own team. Dave Doeren, like O’Brien before him, takes clumsy and overt shots at the Carolina program because, after all, his job hinges on beating the team in blue.

Sidebar: Tom O’Brien went 5-1 against North Carolina and got canned because he kicked to Gio. Think about that.

My last trip to Carter-Finley Stadium was in 2007, a 31-27 loss capped by three failed fade routes to Hakeem Nicks in the endzone. I was treated to the following experiences:

  • Getting the double bird from a child who was no more than six years old;
  • Being told, between numerous f-bombs and homophobic slurs, that State “would rather go 1-11 and beat Carolina’s sissy asses than 11-1 and lose to y’all” Note: I believe that to be true.
  • Returning to my car to find my gas cap open, reeking of urine, my rear view mirrors folded in, and Carolina paraphernalia kindly removed from both ends of my 1999 Mitsubishi Montero.

The recent ability of the Wolpfack to win games in this series surely adds fuel to the fire, but this rivalry would no longer be fun if not for State’s epic inferiority complex and repeated, hilarious fails:

Anyway, Carolina and State renew their rivalry on November 25th.

Identity

Despite constant complaints about being in the ‘more difficult’ Atlantic Division, State has not finished with a .500 record in the ACC since 2012. This could be the year they get back to that level, as they’re led by a defense that allowed just 3.3 yards per rush and returns largely intact.

The offense was good despite a weird situation which led to Matt Canada being fired and subsequently becoming one of the nation’s hot assistants in one year. Eliah Drinkwitz rode a run-first attack similar to many from the Gus Malzahn tree, and will do so this year with more experience at QB (Ryan Finley), a strong offensive line, and a passing attack that loses little-to-no production.

Personnel

The offense starts with Swiss Army knife back/receiver/tight end Jaylen Samuels, who is a freak and a matchup nightmare. In him and Nyheim Hines, the State offense tries to find mismatches to exploit and outflank defenses. It tends to work fairly well. Receivers Kelvin Harmon and Stephen Louis also return, giving Finley a full complement of weapons.

As it was fairly inefficient, the offense was just okay in 2016. If it were being relied upon to be the lead group for the Wolfpack, they’d be looking at another 5-to-7 win year.

Unfortunately, they’ve got their defense.

It starts up front with the four seniors— Bradley Chubb and Kentavius Street at end, B.J. Hill and Justin Jones at tackle. Hill and Jones are good enough at eating space to let Chubb and Street (especially Chubb) create havoc. Losing leading tackler Josh Jones may not help, but they get Germaine Pratt back from injury after missing 2016.

The secondary is a little bit lighter in returning production, as only corner Mike Stevens and safety Shawn Boone return from a pass defense that actually gave up a Doeren-era high 244 yards per game through the air.

Matchup Analysis

This series has been one characterized by who wins the first quarter in years past. The Pack jumped out 21-0 early last year, the Heels 35-7 the year before, and so on. It’s been odd to have a team come out flat in this rivalry, but there really hasn’t been a very close game in this series since the Gio punt return.

Offensively, State has the type of offense that tends to frustrate the Heels. Find mismatches underneath, run for 4-5 yards per attempt, and control the clock. Assuming they don’t find success is assuming a major step forward for the Heels’ D.

When Carolina has the ball, they HAVE to find success running. Given the running threat of Brandon Harris or Chazz Surratt, the Heels should have another option.

With this game on the road, it promises to be one of the three or four most difficult on the Carolina schedule. I just don’t believe in losing to State in consecutive years.

Heels 32, Pack 30

Fun Fact

State’s loss to Boston College last year snapped a 12-game ACC football losing streak for the Eagles. BC also went 0-18 in conference play in basketball in 2015, meaning the win against State stopped a 31-game ACC losing streak for BC revenue sports.