Only during rivalry week does an innocuous quote from Tom O'Brien's weekly press conference get taken completely out of context. Only during rivalry week does the UNC's student newspaper reach new levels of idiocy with a column trying to chastise Russell Wilson for participating in Senior Day.
This rivalry week takes on added significance for the Pack, now two wins away from their first ACC Championship game birth. The Tar Heels lost their slim hopes of a title game appearance after losing to Virginia Tech, but will be playing at home on senior day trying to snap a three-game losing streak to its most bitter rival.
Noon time on Saturday can't come quick enough. Let's get to the numbers.
Pack Offense against UNC Defense
|Category||NC State Offense||UNC Defense|
|Points per Game||33.1 (30)||22.7 (45)|
|Yards per Play||5.4 (64)||5.2 (42)|
|Yards per Pass Attempt||7.1 (60)||6.4 (27)|
|Yards per Rush||3.6 (90)||4.0 (52)|
|3rd Down Conversion %||44.5% (36)||40.9% (78)|
|Turnovers per game||1.8 (66)||1.8 (59)|
|Red Zone Efficiency||77% (92)||74% (23)|
The Pack had a banner day against an awful Wake Forest team, but the most encouraging sign for Tom O'Brien's squad might have been scoring on every red zone chance given to them last Saturday. The Pack went a perfect five-for-five, including four touchdowns, in its romp over the Deacons.
The self-inflicted personnel losses on the Tar Heel defense have turned them from dominant to merely good this season. They have struggled stopping teams on third down and their rush defense is a little suspect but they've remained a great pass-defending defensive unit that is still generating nearly two turnovers a game.
The Pack's rushing attack has been dormant since its upset win over Florida State, but the Pack needs to establish a running game to beat the Heels.
Pack Defense against UNC Offense
|Category||NC State Defense||UNC Offense|
|Points per Game||20.7 (30)||25.0 (81)|
|Yards per Play||5.1 (32)||5.8 (39)|
|Yards per Pass Attempt||6.9 (56)||8.2 (24)|
|Yards per Rush||3.8 (39)||3.5 (94)|
|3rd Down Conversion %||33.1% (13)||38.5% (73)|
|Turnovers per game||2.3 (15)||2.0 (88)|
|Red Zone Efficiency||77% (32)||86% (32)|
Back-to-back great defensive performances have moved the Pack up the defensive rankings – nearly shooting them into the top 30 in terms of yards per play. The overall strength of the defense still lies in its ability to get off the field on third down and generate turnovers, however.
TJ Yates came into the season as the weak spot on an otherwise solid Carolina roster, but has turned into their best offensive player. With Yates under center, the Carolina passing attack has emerged as one of the most dangerous in the ACC – only the Hokies get more yards per pass attempt than the Heels. Like the Pack, the Heels haven't demonstrated an ability to consistently run the ball and will struggle anytime Yates is having a bad day.
The road to victory
As Yates goes, so go the Tar Heels. Getting pressure on Yates and making him uncomfortable in the pocket will go a long way towards stopping Carolina's offensive attack. He's a much improved passer, but Miami and Virginia Tech both showed that he's still interception prone on his bad days.
Getting an early pick off Yates is the best thing that could happen to the Pack defense. Conversely, allowing an easy touchdown might allow Yates to get into a rhythm – which the Pack wants to avoid at all costs.
In order to score against the Carolina defense, the Pack has to re-establish its ground game. It ran the ball right down the throat of Florida State with Mustafa Greene, and it wouldn't be a bad idea to try a similar game plan against the Heels on Saturday.