Countdown to Kickoff: Duke

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – North Carolina makes the eight-mile drive down U.S. 15-501 to Durham for its regular season-ending grudge match with Duke on Saturday. Kickoff at Wallace Wade Stadium is set for 3:30pm (ESPNU).

The Tar Heels (6-5, 3-4 ACC) enter the 97th meeting between these two programs as a 9.5-point favorite. North Carolina leads the all-time series 57-35-4 and has won 19 of the last 20 contests over the Blue Devils (3-8, 1-6 ACC). Duke's last win over UNC at Wallace Wade arrived via a 35-29 decision in 1988.

"It's sad; it's just seems like forever losing that many games to Carolina, and hearing about all the games they lost before that," Duke sophomore quarterback Sean Renfree told reporter earlier this week.

But don't mistake the lopsided nature in the recent win-loss column for dominance on the field. Six of the last eight meetings have been decided by eight points or less, and UNC's 19-6 victory last season was a three-point affair until a Jhay Boyd rushing touchdown with 6:57 remaining in regulation.

A losing record by the Blue Devils has solidified this season finale as their opportunity to exit 2010 on a high note.

"We've invested a bunch into this whole year," Cutcliffe said. "Certainly the last month has been very emotional to our seniors, fighting to try to become bowl eligible. This game kind of separates itself when it's the last ballgame regardless. I think both teams are kind of emotionally charged to play this football game knowing it's the last regular season game."

While Duke's defense continues to be a work in progress (111th in total defense, 443.8 yards per game), Cutcliffe's offensive wizardry has allowed the Blue Devils to be competitive on most weekends this season. Renfree (261-of-425 passing, 2.889 yards, 13 TD, 15 INT) has improved his play over the past month and is the primary reason behind Duke's No. 53 national ranking in total offense (391.0 ypg).

"When you watch film on Duke the one thing on offense is they look like a mini version of the Indianapolis Colts," UNC head coach Butch Davis said. "Uniform looks identical, they are throwing the football all over the place and the quarterback is making an awful lot of plays."

As North Carolina's emotional '10 season winds down, there is some concern across the fan base that last Saturday's four-point loss to N.C. State may have finally exhausted the Tar Heels after months of turmoil due to the NCAA investigation. But Davis believes Duke's presence on the schedule will help guard against any letdown.

"I think in some respects it helps your team bounce back when you have had a disappointing loss to play somebody who is a rival in your conference," Davis said.

It also helps to have a record-setting quarterback like T.J. Yates (231-of-348 passing, 2,920 yards, 17 TD, 8 INT) taking the field against Duke's accommodating secondary. The Marietta, Ga. senior already owns school records for career passing yards, career completions and career attempts and needs just four completions and 121 passing yards against Duke to obtain the single-season completion record and to become the first Tar Heel to eclipse the 9,000 career yardage mark, respectively.

"Everybody on our coaching staff and on our team offensively recognizes that he's playing very well," Davis said of Yates. "He's been very efficient; he's been smart with the ball. He's throwing the ball the best that I've ever seen him. He's got more velocity on the ball. And I think certainly his confidence level grows, as any quarterback's would, when the guys around you are making more plays."

The Blue Devils will attempt to slow down UNC's air assault despite standing 106th nationally in pass efficiency defense (148.6) and 94th in pass defense (239.8 ypg). But, as is the case in most rivalry games, Duke will rely on the emotion involved with playing North Carolina to overcome the discrepancies in the stat books.

"Our responsibility at Duke to this rivalry is to make it one," Cutcliffe said. "You've got to compete and win some of those games. We haven't done that very well, over a long period of time. That would be an enormous accomplishment for our seniors to leave with, but they also know it's a big task. We're playing an extremely talented football team."

For North Carolina, a win on Saturday would assure the program of its third-straight winning season, a feat which has not been accomplished since UNC had nine straight winning seasons from ‘90-98.

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