Durant, Heels get up for rival Wolfpack

North Carolina's 2003 football schedule is currently ranked the seventh-toughest in the nation, and UNC is staring 0-4 right in the face heading to Raleigh Saturday as 20-point underdogs. Scoring should not be a problem for either team however, as the Tar Heels and Wolfpack own the weakest defenses in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

A shootout is almost certain, and thus, the possibility of a surprise finish does exist. However, expectations for a Carolina upset are minimal considering the Tar Heels' record, and the 20-point spread shows a lack of respect that junior quarterback Darian Durant admits stings a little.

"Yes it does," Durant said. "Just that people think that we are that bad, but we'll surprise a lot of them. We have been the underdog the past two years in every game so it doesn't bother me."

In last season's game in Chapel Hill, the 2-3 Tar Heels led 17-7 with 10:04 remaining in the third quarter. After giving up a six-play, 70-yard drive that ended in a Philip Rivers' one-yard touchdown run, UNC found itself pinned deep in its own territory.

Then, in what was the turning point in the game and perhaps the season, Durant fumbled on the 4-yard line, which allowed State to score its second touchdown in a span of 24 seconds. The Pack would go on to a 34-17 victory, and the Tar Heels would not win again until they played Duke the final game of the year.

"I don't think about it too much," Durant said. "I try not to think about the bad things that happen. I try to focus on the good. While watching film, I don't pay much attention to the bad plays I made, but instead I pay attention to those plays where I did pretty good and try harder to make them a bigger play."

In his two games against the Wolfpack, Durant has thrown for 394 yards and four touchdowns.

It is simply amazing the numbers he has put up in just 13 games as the Tar Heels' starter. While he will likely own nearly every school passing and total offense record by the time he graduates next year, he continues to become a better quarterback.

Durant is just 421 yards shy of breaking Ronald Curry's career passing mark of 4,987 yards. He has accounted for six of UNC's eight touchdowns this year.

"He's got records and incredible statistics, but he has not played an awful lot of football," UNC head coach John Bunting said. "He is still growing. He's made a lot of progress here. Emotionally, he has grown very strong. He is determined to play his best and manage his emotions and our offense.

"He knows he has to take a significant role in leading this team, just like the quarterback – Philip Rivers – does every week over at N.C. State."

Durant edged out Rivers for the ACC total offense crown in 2002, when he averaged over 285 yards per game.

"It's a big thing for me when I know I am going up against probably the best quarterback in the ACC and maybe the best one in the country," Durant said of Rivers. "It is just a thrill for me to go up against guy like him."

While Durant's effectiveness fell off a bit last week at Wisconsin – he was 5-of-12 passing for 139 yards with an interception, many seem to forget just how inexperienced he still is.

"I know I could have played better," Durant said. "I missed on small reads. On one play I know I forgot to send someone in motion. There were a lot of things that went wrong that can be corrected."

  • Bunting and N.C. State's Chuck Amato have each played in three of these rivalry games – the best the state has had to offer then and now.

    The third-year UNC coach and alum was ineligible as a freshman in 1968 and the Tar Heels opened the 1969 season with a 10-3 loss in Raleigh. During Bunting's junior year, the Tar Heels shut out the Wolfpack in Kenan Stadium 19-0, en route to a 8-3 regular season finish and a berth in the 1970 Peach Bowl.

    But it is the 1971 match-up that he remembers best. The Tar Heels won 27-7 at Carter-Finley Stadium and would go on to win the ACC championship at 9-2, before losing to Vince Dooley's Georgia squad 7-3 in the Gator Bowl.

    "It was very hot and very humid," Bunting said. "Our quarterback [Paul Miller] played very well. Ike Oglesby was our running back and he ran for a lot of yards in the first half. But it was very hot, and Ike was never the same after that game. He didn't play again that year and we really missed him."

    The Tar Heels' only two losses in 1971 were in the weeks following the game with N.C. State – 39-27 home loss to Tulane, followed by a 16-0 defeat to Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind.

    Of course, despite the fact the two programs have appeared to be heading in opposite directions over the past few years, Carolina has won eight of the last 10 and leads the all-time series 60-26-6.

    "Since 1991 [home field] has not been very important over here; N.C. State's only won one," Amato said. "The advantage has gone to North Carolina more times than not in this series. I used not to think that home field was a real big it advantage, but it can be if things are going well it can be a big lift – an extra cheerleader. It can help to be a twelfth man to pick up a team or keep the other team down. I'm glad we're playing over here this year."

  • Along with T.A. McLendon being banged up at tailback, the Wolfpack receiving corps is also without starters' Richard Washington and Sterling Hicks.

    "You lose one, you lose another and you lose another," Amato said.

    McLendon may not have been listed as questionable this week had it not been for his last play of the Texas Tech game – a 67-yard run in which he pulled up lame in the last 10 or so yards.

    "We wouldn't be having this conversation right now," Amato said. "He hadn't run that far in over three weeks."

    But Amato also said there are still plenty of targets for Rivers to throw to. Tramain Hall has been cleared to play Saturday, and Andy Bertrand and Lamont Barrett have also played this year. Dovonte Edwards, who moved to cornerback this year, has continued to practice with both the offense and defense and could also be used as a wideout against the Tar Heels. Amato said he doesn't expect to have to burn true freshman Jimmie Sutton's redshirt to get through the injury setbacks.

    "We're sore and this and that, but we're fine where we are at," Amato said. "We've got enough, even if we have to make [offensive guard] Sean Locklear the biggest receiver in the nation."

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