His success can be attributed to plenty of things. He immediately embraced the rivalry and got his players to buy into its importance. Combine that focus with a good portion of luck (2-yard Hail Marys) and three years of Russell Wilson play-making and you end up with a flawless record against the Tar Heels.
Things have changed this year though, as Carolina's interim coach Everett Withers has ratcheted up the trash talking and made the importance of this game clear to his players. As a lame-duck coach with no real chance at landing the job long-term, Withers hasn't been afraid to take the trash talking to another level. Sure taking shots at NC State's academic record might be the most ill-conceived trash talk possible considering the circumstances surrounding Carolina, but it's also fun to have both sides lobbing volleys at each other this year.
Let's take a look at the numbers.
NC State's Offense against North Carolina's Defense
|Category||NC State Offense||North Carolina Defense|
|Points per Game||27.5 (63)||24.9 (51)|
|Yards per Play||5.1 (88)||5.2 (43)|
|Yards per Pass Attempt||6.9 (72)||7.2 (69)|
|Yards per Rush||3.2 (108)||3.2 (18)|
|3rd Down Conversion %||41.0% (58)||41.1% (76)|
|Turnovers per game||2.0||1.8|
|Red Zone Efficiency - TD%||71% (21)||47% (15)|
The Heels do not have a good pass defense, but they are tremendously difficult to run against. Carolina's pass defense has been an issue for two straight seasons, but once again the Pack will have to protect Glennon before they can take advantage of Carolina's biggest defensive weakness.
The problem is the same as it was last week – the offense has to be able to run the ball enough to keep the defense off-balance and hopefully slow down Carolina's pass rush. The Heels have one of the ACC's better defensive lines, meaning the Pack's offensive line has to improve greatly over its performance at Florida State.
Carolina has also managed to be remarkably good at keeping people out of the end zone once they get inside the 20-yard line. Conversely, scoring once in the red zone has been a strength for the Pack – whether it's play-calling in close or just solid execution the Pack is getting six points nearly three out of every four trips to the red zone. When they get the opportunity against this defense, they have to get touchdowns.
NC State's Defense Against North Carolina's Offense
|Category||NC State Defense||North Carolina Offense|
|Points per Game||28.6 (82)||31.3 (43)|
|Yards per Play||5.8 (83)||6.7 (11)|
|Yards per Pass Attempt||7.3 (75)||9.6 (5)|
|Yards per Rush||4.4(74)||4.5 (44)|
|3rd Down Conversion %||40.9% (73)||39.4% (71)|
|Turnovers per game||2.8||2.1|
|Red Zone Efficiency – TD%||59% (64)||75% (11)|
Bryn Renner has had a strong season for a first-year starter. He's throwing the ball with remarkable accuracy and has 19 touchdowns to go with just nine interceptions. But he does have a weakness – he holds the ball too long and like many quarterbacks makes bad decisions under pressure. The Pack had a lot of success getting to T.J. Yates last season, sacking him seven times. The Pack will need to generate similar pressure this year, even if they don't get another lofty sack total, to disrupt Renner's rhythm and make him uncomfortable in the backfield.
The one glaring weakness in the Heels' offensive attack this year has been their ability to convert on third down. For a team that throws and runs as well as the Heels, it's surprising that Carolina can't figure out how to convert more than 40 percent of its third downs. When the Pack does get to third down, it needs to stop this team.
The Heels are fifth in the nation in plays over 30 yards, so you simply cannot give them an extra three plays to work with on a drive.
The Road To Victory
Once again the biggest key for the Pack is winning the turnover battle. It could be as simple as who throws the most interceptions – Mike Glennon has tossed two picks in each of his last two games.
Renner tends to throw them in bunches – he's only thrown three picks in his last five games and all of those came against Clemson. The quarterback who makes the fewest mistakes on Saturday will put their team in the best position to win this game.
Beyond the turnovers, it's going to come down to limiting big plays on defense and protecting Glennon on offense. The defense has to force the Heels to be a methodical offense and get them into third down situations. The offensive line has to give Glennon time to throw and open enough running lanes to make the ground game a legitimate threat.
If the Pack can do all those things, it will put itself in a position to beat Carolina for the fifth straight time.