Duke (5-3) vs North Carolina (5-3)
Chapel Hill, N.C. - Kenan Stadium
TV: ESPNU / Kick-off: 3:30 PM EST
Program Vitals Conference: ACC Nickname: Tar Heels Colors: Light Blue and White Head Coach: Butch Davis (3rd season) Career Record at North Carolina: 17-16
The Blue Devils trail the all-time series between the two schools 56-35-4. Saturday's game will make the first time since 1994 that both teams enter the game with winning records. The Tar Heels have won 18 of the last 19 meetings between the two programs, with Duke's lone victory coming in 2003.
The winner of the game will receive possession of the Victory Bell for the next calendar year. In addition, the winner of the game will earn their school two points in the annual Carlyle Cup competition.
What To Watch For On Offense:
While the Carolina offense has struggled at times this season, the Tar Heels certainly have enough fire power to compete with most teams. It all starts under center where junior quarterback T.J. Yates will likely be eclipsing the 5,000 career passing yards mark against the Blue Devils on Saturday. For the season Yates has completed 126-of-211 passes for 1,159 yards and nine scores against nine interceptions. All told Yates has been a fair barometer of the team's success. When he's been off, Carolina has struggled mightily, but when he's been locked in they've been able to live up to some of the preseason hype. A good example of the latter came last week when Yates completed 18 of 28 passes for 131 yards and two scores to help his team rally to beat Virginia Tech in Blacksburg.
When not entrusting the offense to Yates, the Tar Heels look to a running game that has undergone a few strategic changes over the last few weeks - adding a healthy dose of tailback Ryan Houston to the mix that begins with starter Shaun Draughn. Houston, who was normally a goal line and short yardage specialist at nearly 250 pounds, has been given more work in the last two games - accounting for 15 carries in each. Against a suspect Duke defense, the Tar Heels will be looking to pound the ball between the tackles to tire out a unit without a great deal of depth. Against the Hokies the pair combined for 143 yards on 30 carries. In addition to the traditional backs, North Carolina will occasionally run plays that involve receivers getting the handoff. It was certainly the case against Florida State earlier this year when the Heel receivers accounted for 109 yards including 48 yards by Greg Little and 40 from Johnny White.
Both the passing and running game have benefitted from a solid offensive line that has allowed just 19 sacks on the season. Carolina starts three juniors, a senior, and one redshirt freshman along the offensive line with an average sized lineman measuring out at 6'5 and 305 pounds. Senior left Tackle Kyle Jolly will be making a team high 34th start on Saturday.
The loss of Hakeem Nicks, Brandon Tate, and Brooks Foster to the NFL has forced the Carolina depth chart to include a number of new players in the passing game. So far this season the team has played three true freshman at wideout in the form of Erik Highsmith, Jheranie Boyd and Joshua Adams. Highsmith has done the most, accounting for 304 yards and two scores on 22 catches. Junior Greg Little is the team's leading receiver with 37 catches for 348 yards and two scores. In addition Little has rushed 15 times for 92 yards. After being a secondary target for his first two seasons, Little needed just five games to eclipse his career receptions total in 2009 as the team's primary wideout. Little will be best remember by Duke fans for his 26 carry, 154 yard rushing performance against Duke in 2007 that allowed North Carolina to escape a hotly contested game with the Victory Bell.
What To Watch For On Defense:
While the offense has been inconsistent, the North Carolina defense has been as good as predicted - if not better. Currently the unit ranks seventh in the country in total defense - allowing just 265 yards per game. Of particular note for Duke will be UNC's pass defense which is checking in at 10th in the nation allowing just 163.4 yards per contest. It doesn't get any easier on the ground for opponents as North Carolina is averaging only 101.6 yards per game (18th nationally) and giving up just 16.5 points per game (15th).
With Duke's offense being extremely pass oriented, the Blue Devils offensive line is going to need to keep Lewis upright long enough to go through his progressions. After a shaky early season, the Duke line has held well enough, but the Tar Heels like pose the strongest test to date. It starts with former No. 1 overall prospect Marvin Austin at defensive tackle. A pre-season All-ACC award winner, Austin is has recorded 28 total tackles along with 13 tackles for loss and one sack so far this season. Joining Austin on the interior will be senior Cam Thomas. A three year starter, Thomas spends a good amount of time occupying blockers to allow the quicker Austin room to operate. Against Georgia Tech he recorded a career best six tackles. On the outside the Heels will look to Robert Quinn on the right and E.J. Wilson on the left. Quinn has established himself as one of the conference's best defensive ends this season - racking up 34 tackles including 11.0 tackles for loss and seven sacks. He's also forced three fumbles on the season. Meanwhile Wilson, who has started 33 games in a row, has managed to record 6.5 tackles for loss and two sacks off the right side.
With a defensive line that can get pressure on the quarterback, the Tar Heels are able to allow their extremely athletic linebacking corps to ballhawk all over the field. No player embodies that more than outside linebacker Quan Sturdivant who has been named as one of the 16 semifinalists for the Butkus Award which honors the nation's top linebacker. Through eight games Sturdivant leads the team with 55 tackles and ranks second on the team with 9.5 tack- les for losses. He also has one forced fumble, one fumble recovery, three pass breakups and one sack. Opposite Sturdivant will be junior Bruce Carter who, like his more publicized teammate, is a nightmare for opposing passers when he drops back into coverage. Both outside backers have returned two interceptions for touchdowns in their career. In the middle, true freshman Kevin Reddick has made two consecutive starts against Florida State and Virginia Tech.
The defensive backfield is led by cornerbacks Kendric Burney and Charles Brown. Burney, a second team all-conference performer a season ago, ranks fourth on the team with 38 stops and four tackles for loss. After a strong sophomore season, most teams choose to focus their passing attack away from Burney, though he does have three pass breakups, one interception,and one forced fumble to his credit this season. Meanwhile, Brown has been very active this season. He ranks second on the team with 43 tackles. Brown has been a part of four turnovers the Tar Heels have forced this season with two interceptions and two fumble recoveries. He also has five pass breakups. The two safeties, Da'Norris Searcy and Deunta Williams have both been solid this year. Searcy pulls double duty on special teams as well. Williams, meanwhile, will likely get some post-season consideration this season. On Saturday he will make his 34th consecutive game.
With a running attack that ranks just 116th in the country, the Blue Devils will be hoping that head coach David Cutcliffe's offensive game plan has enough tricks to move the ball up and down the fields. North Carolina has its fair share of playmakers on both side of the ball, and will be able to score some points. The questions facing the Blue Devils will be how the team reacts to UNC's pressure on Lewis and how the team can off-set the running attack of the Tar Heels. It would appear as though the Blue Devils have put the idea of surprising people out of their mind. Simply put, Duke now expects to win football games. That has not been true over the last couple of seasons, and yet Duke has pushed Carolina to the wire more often than not. This time around the Blue Devils are a well-coached, and well-disciplined football team. Had that been the case in 2007, Duke would have won in Chapel Hill. This time around it may very well be different. If the Blue Devils can get some semblance of a running attack and maintain possession of the football, they can win.
Predicted Final Score:
Duke - 23
Carolina - 20