Rivalry Clash Closes Regular Season

Inside Carolina takes an in-depth look at N.C. State, as UNC looks to secure its third straight win over the Wolfpack in the regular season finale for both teams at Kenan Stadium (12:30 ET/ACCN).

N.C. State Intro
From a wins and losses perspective, the 2014 season has represented a vast improvement for N.C. State. Last season marked a low point for program as the Wolfpack finished with a dreadful 3-9 record that did not include a single victory in ACC play. There can be little doubt that the program has taken a step forward in head coach Dave Doeren’s second year at the helm. Yet, N.C. State’s 6-5 record (2-5 ACC) is a little bit misleading. The Wolfpack played an incredibly soft out of conference schedule included Georgia Southern, Old Dominion, and Presbyterian. N.C. State’s ACC wins came against the two worst teams in the conference (Wake Forest and Syracuse are both 1-6 in league play). On the other hand, the Wolfpack hung with Florida State for three quarters (before falling 56-41) and Doeren and his staff have had two weeks to prepare for a North Carolina team that will be playing its third game in as many weeks.

This is an offense defined by quarterback play. At 6-foot-4 and just over 230 pounds, starter Jacoby Brissett may remind UNC fans of Marquise Williams in his dual role as quarterback. Brissett has accounted for 2,609 yards (237.2 yards per game), with 331 of those yards coming on the ground. The redshirt junior has also been able to rely on a rushing attack that has generated an average of 189.6 yards per game on the ground (4th in the ACC). Leading the way out of the backfield is junior Shadrach Thornton, who has amassed 672 yards and eight touchdowns on an average of 5.5 yards per carry. In contrast to the running game, State’s passing offense has struggled to put up big numbers. Brissett is completing under 60 percent of his passes. More importantly, nobody has really stepped up as a go-to target. State’s leading receiver in 2014 is true freshman Bo Hines, who leads the team with 42 receptions and 513 receiving yards.

If you look at the big picture, N.C. State’s defense has played to the level of the competition. In its two victories over ACC opponents, the Wolfpack have surrendered just 30 total points. In its five conference losses, however, State has given up 213 points (an average of 42.6 per game). This unit has been particularly vulnerable against the run having surrendered an average of 188.8 yards per game (3rd worst in the ACC). Against the pass, this group has been respectable (6th best in the ACC in terms of pass yards per game). The real issue, however, has been in the secondary. N.C. State is the worst team in the ACC at getting stops on third down. Opposing offenses are converting slightly over 50 percent of their third down opportunities against the Wolfpack.

“It's rivalry week, 30 minutes apart. It means a lot for either school in a matchup like this, not just because of the bragging rights and how close you are to each other, but the recruiting.” – Doeren

“He does a lot of things well for us, and you can see throughout the year he's learned how to manage the game better. He's such a great competitor, and he's given us a huge lift, just the way he prepares, manages, and works with the offensive kids on the team. He's a really good leader in that locker room for them.” – Doeren on Brissett

Notable Matchups

UNC’s Ground Game vs. N.C. State’s Run Defense
We covered the Wolfpack’s struggles in stopping the run above. That’s critical, especially given how UNC’s running game has seemingly found its groove behind a healthy offensive line. UNC has plowed its way to 541 yards and eight touchdowns in its last two games (both victories). Junior running back T.J. Logan has come on strong late in the season and churned out 210 yards in Carolina’s current two-game winning streak. Quarterback Marquise Williams and running back Romar Morris have also found more consistency in picking up yards on the ground. N.C. State has had two weeks to prepare for the Tar Heels, but the last time the Wolfpack faced a potent rushing (Georgia Tech on Nov. 8t), they surrendered 479 yards, five touchdowns and 7.5 yards per carry in a 56-23 loss.

UNC’s Defense vs. N.C. State’s Brissett
North Carolina’s pass rush came alive against Duke, forcing four fumbles (recovering two), and sacking dual-threat quarterback Anthony Boone three times. Brissett has had marginal success on the ground, but he hasn’t been quite as effective in the passing game. Brissett has done a good job of taking care of the football (just five interceptions on the season), but the West Palm Beach, Fla. native ranks fifth in the ACC and 52nd nationally in passer rating (132.5). Brissett is averaging 207 passing yards per game, ranks seventh in the ACC in completion percentage (59.2) and has thrown 19 touchdowns.

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