The Tar Heels topped Maryland 16-13 behind the continued strong play from defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano's group, which has held four of its last five opponents to under 302 yards of total offense.
North Carolina has also seen improved play in the rushing attack, as the Heels are averaging 121.4 yards per game during their last five outings.
"I think they are very athletic," NCSU head coach Tom O'Brien said. "It's a typical Carolina team. They are probably as talented as Miami. One of the things Butch said of the program when he came in was that he was surprised at the quality of offensive and defensive linemen they have. They really have good players up front, and that's a good place to start if you're going to start anywhere. They have quality depth at those positions."
Meanwhile, N.C. State has turned the corner on a disastrous six-game stretch to begin the season, and is now on a three-game winning streak after knocking off Miami 19-16 in overtime at the Orange Bowl. The Wolfpack was committing about three more turnovers a game than their opponent during the first half of the season, but during the current win streak, N.C. State has forced more turnovers than they have committed.
"I think we're converting on third downs and not turning the ball over...," junior quarterback Daniel Evans said. "Staying on the field – we're keeping the ball and trying to get three or seven every time. Scheme-wise we're not doing anything different. It's just a matter of taking care of the ball and letting our defense make plays."
With new head coaches at both programs, this game week has lacked the constant ribbing that former coaches John Bunting and Chuck Amato were known to provide leading up to the ball game. Davis and O'Brien have been more respectful in their approach to the opposing university, and the first-year UNC coach has even raised some eyebrows throughout the fan base with his insistence of treating this rivalry game like every contest on the schedule.
"What we're trying to build here is that we're trying to prepare every week as if it's the biggest game of the season," Davis said. "I think it's a real mistake when you try to say, ‘Okay, we're going to really, really work hard this week because it's N.C. State' and two weeks ago it was Virginia, and we're not going to work as hard? That logic makes no sense at all."
The Tar Heels hold a 63-27-6 overall mark over the Wolfpack, while winning three straight and 11 of the last 14. Oddly enough, North Carolina holds a better record in Raleigh (27-11- 4) than they do at Kenan Stadium (26-15-1).
Regardless, the North Carolina roster wants to send their 10 seniors out with a perfect 4-0 record against N.C. State.
"We take a lot of pride in that," junior offensive tackle Garrett Reynolds said. "That's something that we would love to continue. I'm going to bust my butt this week to make sure it happens. We don't want to lose that – since I've been here, we haven't lost to them and I don't plan on it."