When one thinks about the rivalry game for North Carolina (2-5 & 1-3 ACC) in football, many will say N.C. State (3-4 & 0-4 ACC), so when these two programs meet up it’s always about bragging rights. However, for both teams this year’s game, which is being played at Carter-Finley Stadium, is about something else. The winner will keep their slim hopes of finding a way to a bowl game alive, while for the loser it is almost certain that the season ends once the regular season does.
Before I speak about the game itself I like to understand how ESPN puts this game on ESPN3 (computer only) while a game like #8 Clemson/Virginia, which should be nothing more than a blow out, goes on ESPN.
With the reality being that both squads could miss out on playing in December this season this game might just be as close to a bowl game as either will have in 2013. This means, even with the teams having a combined record of 5 and 9, the game could be one very well worth watching as it should provide plenty of excitement. Not to mention that the winner of this one might also have an edge on in-state recruits.
Last season the Tar Heels won the match up, thanks to the great punt return by now Bengal running back Giovani Bernard with the game winding down, while the five prior ones went to the Wolfpack. But when it comes to today’s game it’s going to be which quarterback, not running back, will make the most plays that will bring home the victory.For head coach Larry Fedora this means… will the dual threat quarterback combo of senior Bryn Renner (137-of-209, 1,641 yards, 10 TDs, 4 INTs) and sophomore Marquise Williams (32-of-51, 445 yards, 5 TDs, 3 INTs ~ 158 rushing yards, TD work once again? If it does the goal of six wins, or as I been calling it “thrive for five”, will continue, and if not then the Carolina fan base will begin to post things such as “thank goodness basketball is back” or worst!
One thing is for sure, whichever of the two QBs the Heels have on the gridiron they need to look for their biggest target, tight end Eric Ebron (599 yards, 3 TDs), who in my opinion will be headed to the NFL once the season is over. In order for the offense to click in this game the QB to TE connection must be made early and often, while the running game has to do as much as possible to keep the opposing D from focusing on Renner or Williams.
On the other side of the ball the Tar Heels seem to be tackling better and not giving up the big plays (for the most part) that they were allowing in the first part of the season. This needs to continue in order to keep the Pack in check today. And just like Ebron is the leader of the offense, Kareem Martin is the go to guy for UNC when they are on defense. He will need to have a good game against N.C. State, as well, as push the defensive unit to their potential if Carolina wants to get out of it with a win.
To reword the Toby Keith song “as good as I once was”, for both teams they might not have been as good as they thought they would be in 2013, but they can be just as good as they should have been for this one game. For the Tar Heels, who have not won in Raleigh since 2005, they need to be not just good, but very good, to come back to Chapel Hill with a victory.
The two players I am hoping to see have a good game are a duo of freshmen. First wide receiver Ryan Switzer, who finally found the end zone last week, and running back T.J. Logan, who has all the potential to break out, but just hasn’t yet.
A game against an arch rival, on the road, during a season that has been nowhere close to what was expected for Heel fans, a win can go a long way toward regaining the fan base, win the in-state recruiting, and most of all, keeping the hopes going that this team will be able to get back to a bowl game after missing out on it last season.
In the end, thanks to the momentum that they are bringing into this game, North Carolina is a five points favorite in this one. The spread seems spot on, as I have UNC taking this one by the final of 31 to 27, where the Heels offense shows they can get it done, while the D shows it still has a lot of work to do.