Previewing Duke vs. N Carolina

With many variables to be decided with the outcome of the game Saturday, the Blue Devils will head to Chapel Hill to face off against the rival North Carolina Tar Heels. <i>TheDevilsDen.com</i>'s football guru offers his opinions on what will and what needs to happen for the victory bell to ring in Durham for the first time in 13 years.

Overview:

The Duke Blue Devils will close out their 2003 season by traveling to Chapel Hill to take on their arch-rivals, the North Carolina Tarheels. UNC currently stands at 1-6 in the conference and 2-9 overall. The loser of this contest will finish last in the conference, so there is still pride, and the Victory Bell to play for. Lets see how the two teams matchup.

When Duke has the ball:

The Devils must be able to run the ball better than they did last week against Clemson. That should prove an easier chore against an uncharacteristically bad Tarheel defense. The Heels are giving up an amazing 224.5 yards per game rushing and 5.0 yards per carry to their opponents. Duke's Chris Douglas needs 22 yards of total offense this week to become the ACC's all-time leader. He might get that in rushing alone. Not to be outdone by their porous rushing defense, the Tarheels are almost as bad against the pass, giving up 288 yards per game through the air. Duke only passed for 57 yards against Clemson, so the UNC pass defense is just what quarterbacks Chris Dapolito and Mike Schneider wanted to see. Duke really needs a few receivers to step up and have a big game. The most likely candidates are Reggie Love and Khary Sharpe. Both have had disappointing seasons to date, but would love nothing more than to stand out in the finale.

When UNC has the ball:

UNC is much better on this side of the ball, due mostly to the effective play of their quarterback, Darian Durant. He is a fairly accurate passer, and is one of the best running quarterbacks in the country. He did suffer a sprained ankle in last week's loss at Georgia Tech, but he's a tough guy so the injury will probably not affect his scrambling very much. With Durant at the helm, UNC is 4th in the ACC in total offense, averaging slightly over 400 yards per game. Freshman Ronnie McGill is the Tarheels' primary ball carrier. His 244-yard effort against Wake Forest two weeks ago is the second-highest single game total in the conference this year. At receiver, Jawarski Pollock is among the conference leaders in receptions per game (2nd) and receiving yards per game (6th). The Heels also have talented freshmen in Mike Mason and Adarius Bowman. TE Bobby Blizzard is among the ACC's best. For Duke to slow the Heels down, they must contain Durant. Despite all of the solid skill players, Durant is the driving force behind the Tarheels' offensive success. If Durant has a bad day, the Heels will struggle mightily.

Duke keys to the game:

1. Keep Durant in the pocket – He is most effective when he is threatening defenses with his scrambling ability. Duke must force Durant to throw from the pocket. They should pull out the tapes of the Georgia Tech game, when the Duke defense kept Reggie Ball from beating them with his feet. Ball was forced to throw from the pocket, and he made lots of mistakes. Durant will not make as many errors, but he is not nearly as effective when in the pocket.

2. Control the Line – The UNC defense is easily the worst in the conference. They are really young up front and can be pushed around. Duke needs to let the big guys on the offensive line fire out and get their bodies on the smaller UNC front. They have the strength and size to dominate the line of scrimmage. If they do, the UNC defense will be forced to commit extra men to stopping the run. This should open up the tight ends and receivers on play-action passes. If Duke completes these passes, the UNC defense is in for a really long day.

3. History is history – Duke has a couple ghosts haunting them coming into this game. First, the crushing defeat and subsequent helmet deflation at Wallace Wade last year must be left behind. The revenge factor is fine, but at some point during the game, the emotion will wear off. Duke will be really charged up, but they can't be too fired up, otherwise they will make mistakes, which will cost them points. Also, Duke can't let the 13-game UNC winning streak enter into their minds. They just need to live for the here and now, and let their play determine the outcome of the game.

Final Analysis:

This should be a pretty good battle. The game last season was a barnburner that could have gone either way. Unfortunately for the Blue Devil faithful, it went the Chapel Hill way. UNC comes in to this game as a 6.5 point favorite and rightfully so. They haven't lost to Duke since 1989, and many of the games prior to last year haven't really been that close. For the Devils to win the game, they must control Darian Durant and make the other players beat them. If that happens, Duke had a really good chance to pull the upset. If Durant runs for 50+ yards and throws for 300+, Duke is in a heap of trouble. Conversely, if Chris Douglas threatens the 200-yard rushing barrier, Duke will be in good position to pull out the victory. It is up to the Blue Devil quarterbacks and receivers to mount a credible passing threat to keep the heat off of the rushing game. If that happens, the Tarheel defense will be torched once again.

Despite the bad records of both teams, this is a big game for all involved. The loser of this game will head into the offseason as the ACC doormat. For the last four years, that doormat has been painted royal blue. This year, the doormat will get a dye-job and Duke will finally emerge from a four year stay in the cellar. The Victory Bell will ring in Durham for the first time in 13 years!

Final Score:

Duke – 31
UNC - 28


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