Saturday, November 5, 2011
12:30 pm (EST), ACC Network
North Carolina (6-3) at NC State (4-4) Nov. 5, 12:30, ACC Network
Here's The Deal … After three straight eight-win seasons, North Carolina has a rather predictable goal down the stretch—win a ninth game for the first time in 14 years. The Tar Heels took a giant step in that direction a week ago, whipping Wake Forest, 49-24, in a matchup that reeked of a possible landmine game. It was a dominating—and much-needed—all-around effort from a team that had hit rock-bottom in consecutive losses to Miami and Clemson in the previous two games. The Heels will look to build on last Saturday against a longtime rival, NC State.
The Wolfpack enters Week 10 with a very different mindset, looking to shake off last week's 34-0 pounding at the hands of Florida State. The Pack had been playing markedly better prior to walking into a garnet and gold buzzsaw in Tallahassee. While Carolina has controlled this series over the better part of the past century, NC State has won the last four meetings, raising the ante a bit for this one.
Why North Carolina Might Win: The balance of the Tar Heels offense, which has produced 87 points over the past two games, figures to be too much for an opportunistic, yet beatable, NC State defense.
As the season has unfolded, the backfield tandem of QB Bryn Renner and RB Giovani Bernard has evolved into one of the ACC's best. Bernard, a redshirt freshman, has rushed for more than 100 yards in six of the last seven games to move to within the lip of the 1,000-yard cup. Renner is coming off his sharpest game behind center, finishing 21-of-28 for 338 yards, three scores and no picks.
Carolina has the offensive options that the Wolfpack has been unable to secure this fall.
Why NC State Might Win: If there's a dent in Carolina's defensive armor, it's clearly the secondary, especially now that starting S Matt Merletti is out for the year with an ACL tear. The Heels were outstanding in pass defense a week ago, but that kind of an effort versus Wake Forest has been more of the exception than the rule.
The Pack will counter with QB Mike Glennon and a passing attack that's determined to get back on the rails. The junior has been inconsistent, but clearly has the physical tools to snap off a three-touchdown game at a moment's notice. WR T.J. Graham is a particularly dangerous target in the passing game and on special teams.
Led by pilfering CB David Amerson, who has eight picks, NC State has more takeaways than any other ACC team.
What To Watch Out For: Can the suspect Wolfpack offensive line withstand the pressure of the North Carolina pass rushers? NC State has LB Audie Cole, but the Tar Heels have a much deeper collection of defenders along the front seven. From ends Kareem Martin and Quinton Coples to linebackers Zach Brown and Kevin Reddick, Carolina is loaded with the kinds of playmakers who can collapse the pocket on a consistent basis. If Glennon is forced to make connections on the move, at least two of his passes will wind up in a white jersey.
What Will Happen: Carolina and NC State will wage a competitive battle befitting of two heated rivals. Neither team will get much separation, with the outcome remaining in doubt throughout all four quarters. The difference will be provided by Bernard, the one player in this game most likely to extend drives in the latter stages of an edge-of-your-seat tussle. His running and the deft passing of Renner will carry the Heels to a win in front of a deflated Carter-Finley crowd.
CFN Prediction: North Carolina 34 … NC State 28
Throughout the 2011 season thus far NC State has stayed the course with their spread offense. The Pack has typically spread the field with anywhere from three to five wide receivers and run out of the shotgun the majority of the time.
Perhaps it's time to install a few new wrinkles. State doesn't need to overhaul anything but a little misdirection here or trickeration there may be just what the doctor ordered to jump start the Wolfpack offense.
It's not that State hasn't tried a few trick plays in the past. The problem is that the execution on those plays has been horrid. If the circumstances arrive that allow State to break from the script then first and foremost they have to execute. It's no secret that Virginia basically beat Miami a week ago on the back of two or three gadget plays.
Slow starts have absolutely killed State in 2012.The Pack has scored a measly 24 points in the first quarter this year and have been outscored at a pace of nearly 3 to 1. State has only scored on one opening drive in 2011 when nearly the exact opposite was the norm in 2010. Last year State was one of the nation's best at scoring on their opening drive.
In a huge rivalry game, adrenaline can cause you to play outside yourself which oftentimes will lead to silly mistakes like dropped passes and false starts. The Pack has to channel that energy, stay focused and execute and they have to do it early. State simply doesn't have the horses on defense to constantly ask them to hold opponents scoreless. Playing from behind, especially in the Wake Forest, Cincinnati and Florida State contests has made the Pack way too predictable on offense. State needs to get points on the board early to seize momentum and force UNC to play catch up. Perhaps then they can force UNC QB Bryn Renner into mistakes which could be crucial later in the game.
ESTABLISH THE PASS
Forget running the ball. Just throw it against UNC. Okay, maybe you can't completely ignore the run game but considering State's ineptness at running the ball against better opponents and UNC's tendency to give up chunks of yards through the air, it's probably a good idea to air it out.
Consider that in UNC's loss to Miami, the Canes rushed for 44 yards. When the Heels were crushed by Clemson, the Tigers gained just 77 yards on 36 carries. In a near loss to Rutgers (24-22), the Knights mustered one rushing yard.
The Heels have been extremely vulnerable in their back seven this year and their defensive backs have been extremely suspect when the opposing QB has had time to set up in the pocket. If the Pack can buy Glennon some time, State's wide receivers should be able to find some holes in the Carolina zone as the Heels will do whatever it takes to eliminate George Bryan from the offense.
If you build your offensive game plan around passing the ball then consistency is key. You can't afford third and long and that's a down and distance that has dogged State for much of the year. If the Wolfpack can stay ahead of the chains and protect Glennon then there should be plays there to be made. It also could help loosen up the Heel's front four which could be beneficial for the Wolfpack running backs.
AREAS TO WATCH
There are a few facets to the UNC offense that NC State will need to be cognizant of and defend on Saturday. The first is Carolina's base run game which will be Gio Bernard between the tackles. Since taking over at the beginning of the season, Bernard has received a lot of work and is closing in on a 1,000-yard season. NC State must limit his success.
In the passing game, Bryn Renner has been solid all season. The Heels don't ask him to do a lot, and his completion percentage/accuracy is built on a lot of underneath routes and screens, but he has been successful this year. He struggles when he is roughed up early, and NC State must be able to get to him.
The two passing plays State will have to defend put quite a bit of pressure on the linebackers. First, Bernard has been extremely efficient in the passing game as UNC uses him a lot underneath coverage in one-on-one situations and in the screen game. Even on obvious passing downs, NC State must be aware of Bernard and even reserves A.J. Blue and Ryan Houston. The tailbacks are a vital part of UNC's passing game and last year Anthony Elzy had 178 yards receiving against State's blitz-happy defense.
Another route UNC likes to run is to drag Dwight Jones across the formation and in front of the linebackers. Once he makes the catch, he has the speed and athleticism to run away from linebackers and turn a short catch into a big gain.
Lastly, the Heels like to go deep at least a couple of times during the game. This has worked at times but has gotten Renner into trouble just as often with some poorly thrown balls. He has a tendency to try and force passes down field when they dial up deep routes and if pressured it should open up interception opportunities for NC State's secondary.
A plus for NC State's defense is they have faced teams a few weeks earlier who run schemes similar to UNC in Virginia and Central Michigan. UVA in particular is a lot like the Tar Heels in that the Cavs use the screen game a lot and have a power-running back with small, quick backs like Bernard. NC State's success against the Cavs should give them confidence going into Saturday.
Teams who have pressured Renner and forced him out of the pocket have been successful against him, so look for NC State to blitz the Tar Heel sophomore early and often.
State must be able to generate pressure, but the key is not allowing Jones, Erik Highsmith, or Jay Boyd to break free deep behind coverage. State has done a solid job of preventing long passes this year, and that must continue against the Tar Heels.
If they can pressure Renner, push him out of the pocket, and force him to make plays on the run, the Wolfpack defense should be successful. Doing so should/could force some UNC turnovers and that is crucial.
The Tar Heels have committed 10 turnovers in three losses this year and turned the ball over just nine times in their six wins (five of those nine were in the victory over Rutgers).
Forcing Renner into pressure situations and rushed decisions will be huge for NC State's defense in this game.
OPEN STRONG... LIMIT BIG PLAYS
NC State's defense needs to come out and set the tone early. Carter-Finley should be rocking, and if the Wolfpack can come out and make a few big plays early they can potentially ride that momentum to a victory.
North Carolina has been efficient early in games and when they have its allowed Renner to build his confidence. State can't allow that to happen.
The Pack needs to establish control of the game early, and they must prevent big scoring plays for the Tar Heels.
The Heels are fifth in the nation in plays over 30 yards, so you simply cannot give them an extra three downs to work with on a drive, which means the Pack must get off the field on third down.
North Carolina's offense is built around big plays. If NC State can make the Tar Heels dink-and-dunk the ball up the field, in the end, they should be able to force some mistakes from Renner and their offense.
Simply put, State must contain Bernard, pressure Renner, and eliminate the big plays to leave Carter-Finley Stadium with its fifth-straight victory over the Tar Heels.
NC State-North Carolina: Scout By Numbers
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.
TSX Snapshot: NC State
That's the plan for the Wolfpack, which has made the most of other less-than-stellar seasons by knocking off the Tar Heels.
"Forget about it and move on," coach Tom O'Brien said of the 34-0 loss to Florida State.
And this week's game is a vital matchup because N.C. State must win three of its remaining four games in order to be eligible for a bowl game.
O'Brien has relished in defeating North Carolina. He's 4-0 against the Tar Heels in his role as N.C. State's coach.
"It's important because it's important to our faculty, our staff, our alumni and our fan base and I think that's what makes it different," O'Brien said.
The atmosphere for this game is often much discussed. With a scheduled 12:30 p.m. kickoff, this marks the seventh year in a row that the game time has been set for noon or 12:30 p.m. when these teams have met.
-- Two of the main personalities involved in recent N.C. State / North Carolina matchups are no longer part of the scene. That's because North Carolina coach Butch Davis, who never defeated the Wolfpack while with the Tar Heels, was fired this summer. Meanwhile, quarterback Russell Wilson opted to join Wisconsin's team during the summer, thus officially ending his time with the Wolfpack. Wilson went 3-0 against the Tar Heels.
-- It has been nearly a month since N.C. State has had a successful field goal. That came in the fourth quarter Oct. 8 against Central Michigan.
SERIES HISTORY: North Carolina leads N.C. State 63-31-6 (last meeting, 2010, 29-25 N.C. State).
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The Wolfpack had been gaining steam on offense until the thud against Florida State. Finding better ways to protect QB Mike Glennon might be the first thing on the agenda so he can regain his touch. The backfield has been reduced because of injuries, but RB James Washington and RB Tony Creecy should be capable of churning out some yards if given the chance and if the Wolfpack avoids a sizable early deficit.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The secondary has compiled some nice statistics with interceptions, but that unit has had troubles limiting opponents' aerial strikes. Still, it's a veteran group in the defensive backfield that has shown signs of putting the pieces together. Until there's a better pass rush, there will be concerns. As DT J.R. Sweezy becomes more healthy after a foot injury, there could be some stabilization along the front. The Wolfpack is starting to see signs of the stellar play expected from LB Audie Cole and LB Terrell Manning.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Whenever we control the line of scrimmage and move the ball it opens up the pass and vice versa." -- QB Mike Glennon, whose team is coming off a shutout loss at Florida State. The Wolfpack will try to stay clear of another shutout because it hasn't been blanked twice in the same season since 1970, though North Carolina administered one of those.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: North Carolina at N.C. State, Nov. 5 -- Coach Tom O'Brien of N.C. State has never lost to the Tar Heels since he became the coach of the Wolfpack. That 4-0 record came against former North Carolina coach Butch Davis.
KEYS TO THE GAME: North Carolina has cranked up its offense the past couple of weeks after some sluggish stretches earlier in the season. The Wolfpack will need to keep the Tar Heels in check offensively because there's no reason to believe that N.C. State will put up lots of points in this matchup.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
LB Audie Cole -- He has been wound up for meetings with North Carolina the past two seasons. He has a total of 23 tackles in those two games against the Tar Heels, posting a season-high 13 tackles in last year's matchup.
CB David Amerson -- He's in line for postseason honors with eight interceptions this season, though he didn't record a pick-off in the most-recent game against Florida State. He'll also be tested with North Carolina's large and talented receivers making their ways down the field.
WR T.J. Graham -- He's from the Raleigh area and so he knows full well about the rivalry with North Carolina. He's also on the verge of setting ACC records for career all-purpose yardage, a total that's aided by his role as return specialist.
-- QB Mike Glennon is stuck on 19 touchdown passes after last week's shutout loss to Florida State. Only Philip Rivers (three times) and Russell Wilson (twice) have reached the 20-touchdown mark in passing in a season in school history.
-- DT Jeff Rieskamp hasn't played since the season opener because of a shoulder injury. Suggestions that he could apply for a hardship waiver and seek a sixth year of eligibility appear unlikely because he hasn't expressed a desire to go that route.
-- DT Jacob Kahut, an undersized walk-on at 245 pounds thrust into the middle of the defensive line, has missed games with an injury climbing the depth chart out of necessity after injuries struck the defensive unit in mass.
TSX Snapshot: North Carolina
Bernard has 935 for the season going into the Nov. 5 game against North Carolina State.
"I think it's important," Withers said. "I think it's part of the Carolina history, the 1,000-yard backs who have come before Gio.
"It's important to our offense that he get that goal and pass a thousand and keep on going. I think it's very important."
It's important not just from a personal standpoint but a team concept as well, he said. Much of North Carolina's success on offense can be attributed to its running game.
The Tar Heels are averaging just under 161 yards a game rushing this season, up from 126 last year and 133 in 2009.
"We want to be able to run the football," Withers said. "You get a 1,000-yard rusher that says a lot about the ability to run the football.
"That also helps our quarterback. It helps our receivers. And it helps our tight ends."
Having a 1,000-yard rusher also helps in recruiting he said.
"No question," he said. "I think it's important that kids know that you'll turn around and hand it off to your tailback 20 some-odd times a game and let him get yards.
"I think it's important any time in recruiting."
The game at N.C. State will be the first of consecutive road outings for the Tar Heels, who have met bowl eligibility with their 6-3 record but are looking to improve on their 2-3 ACC mark.
They are at Virginia Tech on Nov. 17, and their regular-season finale is Nov. 26 when they host Duke.
-- North Carolina has never had a 1,000-yard rusher and 1,000-yard receiver in the same season, but that dry spell should come to an end, perhaps as soon as the next game. Redshirt freshman TB Giovani Bernard has rushed for 935 yards and is averaging 107.2 a game this season. Senior WR Dwight Jones has 841 receiving yards and is averaging 93.4 a game. Bernard seems almost assured to get to the mark against N.C. State, but Jones may have to wait another game or two.
-- Fast starts are the key to success for the Tar Heels. In their six wins, they have outscored their victims 49-0 in the first quarter. In their three losses, they have been outscored 30-14.
-- The Tar Heels are playing for the 10th consecutive weekend. They have an open date on Nov. 12, but it's not a full "bye" week because that is followed by Thursday night affair at Virginia Tech on Nov. 17.
SERIES HISTORY: North Carolina leads 63-31-6 (last meeting, 2010, N.C. State 29-25).
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: With redshirt freshman TB Giovani Bernard leading the way, North Carolina has become an effective running team. The Tar Heels are averaging about 161 yards a game on the ground. That takes some of the heat off sophomore QB Bryn Renner, a first-year starter who leads the ACC in passing efficiency but sometimes can be rattled into questionable decisions. Junior WR Erik Highsmith is beginning to make plays to take some of the defensive heat off senior WR Dwight Jones.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The Tar Heels are holding opponents to just over 106 yards a game on the ground despite giving up 312 to Georgia Tech. Only four teams, including the Yellow Jackets, have rushed for 100 yards or more against the Tar Heels. Interceptions are down a bit, however, with 10 in nine games, compared to 19 in each of the last two years and 20 in 2008.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "College football needs rivalries. Just like the East Carolina rivalry, I think it's important to have rivalries in your state. I've always thought that. Everywhere I've been, there's been rivalries in the state matchups. I think it's critical for college football, for college athletics in general." -- Coach Everett Withers, on the importance of North Carolina's rivalry with nearby N.C. State.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: North Carolina at North Carolina State, Nov. 5 -- The Tar Heels ended a two-game losing streak with their win over Wake Forest. Now they look to end a longer skid in the series with the Wolfpack. The 'Pack has won the last four meetings between the two close rivals. The two campuses are less than 30 miles apart.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Take care of the football. The Tar Heels lost six turnovers in their defeat at Clemson, and they had a 5-1 advantage in turnovers in their win over Wake Forest the next week. That and getting off to a fast start will be a big help for the Carolina cause.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
TB Giovani Bernard -- The redshirt freshman is just 35 yards short of reaching the 1,000-yard mark in rushing for the season. He is well ahead of schedule to become North Carolina's first 1,000-yard rusher since Jonathan Linton in 1997.
LB Zach Brown -- The Butkus Award semifinalist leads North Carolina in tackles, tackles-for-loss, sacks, forced fumbles, and interceptions. His sack and resulting forced fumble and recovery gave the Tar Heels an early score against Wake Forest in the last outing.
KR T.J. Thorpe -- You might miss a big play if you're not paying attention when North Carolina receives a kickoff. The freshman leads the ACC with a 29.0 return average and ran back a kickoff 100 yards at Clemson.
-- Freshman TE Eric Ebron is starting to play a bigger role in North Carolina's offense. He has five of his eight receptions over the last three games.
-- Junior WR Eric Highsmith has 21 receptions over the last four games after making 14 receptions through the first five. He did not play against Georgia Tech.
-- SS Jonathan Smith had six tackles in the start against Wake Forest after taking over for the injured Matt Merletti. Smith has gotten nine of his 23 tackles for the season in the last two games.
NC State Depth Chart
|2011 NC State Depth Chart|
North Carolina Depth Chart
Thanks to NC State and North Carolina Athletics for much of the information in this preview.