Game Day: UNC vs. South Carolina

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – North Carolina will rekindle its rivalry with former Duke head coach Steve Spurrier and his No. 7 South Carolina Gamecocks on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. in a border clash at Kenan Stadium (ABC).

This matchup is as much about Spurrier's return to Chapel Hill as it is about South Carolina (5-1, 3-1 SEC). While the Tar Heels beat the Gamecocks 21-17 the last time these two programs met back in 1991, North Carolina (2-4, 1-2 ACC) was not as fortunate during Spurrier's last visit – a 41-0 pasting by the Ol' Ball Coach's Blue Devils in 1989.

Cue Spurrier's flawless ability to insert a subtle jab when debating the notion that Duke kept trying to add more points on the scoreboard late in that ball game: "Anybody that accuses Duke of running up the score – they ought to be embarrassed," Spurrier said. "That's what I say. ... We were bad in the red zone that day. For all the yards we got, we didn't score that much."

Head coach Butch Davis is not one to live in the past, indicating earlier this week that he was unaware of Spurrier's antics during that contest nearly two decades ago. He's much more concerned about preparing his team to face its third ranked opponent in four weeks.

"This will be an enormous challenge for us," Davis said. "The challenges continue to get better each week. South Carolina, with the exception of a 12-point loss to LSU -- arguably the best team in the country -- this is clearly the best football team that we've played. Their defense is as talented and fast as any I've seen."

The Tar Heels have responded following a 37-10 blowout loss to South Florida three weeks ago, falling just short against Virginia Tech (17-10) before knocking off Miami (33-27) last Saturday.

The main reason behind the improved play has been a steadily developing ground game, led by Anthony Elzy (169 yards and two touchdowns in his last five quarters). Brandon Tate (159.2 all-purpose yards per game) has also emerged as a playmaker all over the field for the Tar Heels, scoring touchdowns through the air (3) and on the ground (1), as well as on special teams (1).

Junior offensive tackle Garrett Reynolds attributes the recent success to this young offense finally working as one unit.

"Guys are getting comfortable with the schemes," Reynolds said. "The younger guys are understanding the whole concept better and the offense as a whole is coming together. Sometimes it just takes a while, but we're getting there – we're all on the same page and we're going to start rolling."

That ground game will be important on Saturday, as red-shirt freshman T.J. Yates (1386 passing yards, 9 touchdowns, 8 interceptions) will confront possibly his toughest challenge of the season – South Carolina's top-ranked pass defense (126.5 yards per game).

But while Spurrier's personality may get under the collective North Carolina fan base's skin, he understands that his team will be in a battle this weekend.

"North Carolina is a good team that lost some close games at 2-4," Spurrier said. "They could be 4-2 just as easy as that. They played Virginia Tech in a 17-10 game. They beat Miami last week. They could beat us, we know that. If we're going to beat them, we have to really play well. We have to play better than we have been playing."

And even though numerous media members are not giving North Carolina any shot against their southern foe, the Tar Heels know that their ability to win comes down to trusting each other and not worrying about what's printed in newspapers or talked about on sports radio shows.

"I've never seen anybody talk and win a game," senior defensive tackle Kentwan Balmer said. "Nobody knows what's going on in this program besides the people in this program. If you're not with us, you're against us. We're not going to listen to what anybody says because I'm going to believe in the man next to me and he's going to believe in me… and that's what we're going to carry onto the field every week."

Inside Carolina Top Stories