Head-to-Head: UNC-Duke

What are the key battles to watch in Saturday's game against Duke? Inside Carolina takes a closer look at the five head-to-head matchups that will determine the outcome ...

1.) UNC's Greg Little vs. Duke's Run Defense

When collegiate football coaches adopt the running-back-by-committee approach before the season even begins, that's normally a sign that problems are on the horizon, and North Carolina has definitely not been the exception during the 2007 season. The Tar Heels rank 109th nationally in rushing offense with a meager 92.3 yards per contest, despite using four different running backs throughout the first 10 games.

Greg Little became the fifth option against Georgia Tech last Saturday. The freshman wide receiver moved to the backfield, and immediately showed flashes of his enormous potential; running hard and making defenders miss with his quick feet on his way to 89 yards on 24 carries. Those numbers marked the second-highest rushing total for a Tar Heel this season, coming against the nation's ninth-ranked run defense.

The Yellow Jackets hit him early and often, but the Durham, N.C. native earned over half of his yards after contact.

"The run after contact was something that was very apparent," head coach Butch Davis said. "Our coaches said he had 56 yards that he made after the initial contact.

"It's a shame – he had over 100 yards rushing until they credited him with a [20-yard loss] on that failed running play. He caught some balls as a wide receiver and caught some balls as a running back, and certainly gave us some plays as a running back."

North Carolina has had a player rush for 100 yards at least once every season since 1966, but no one has accomplished that feat so far this fall for the Tar Heels. Fortunately for Little, Duke's run defense is giving up over 180 yards per game and besides, there's nothing wrong with a little added pressure and motivation.

"I've been known to perform well when I'm backed down into a corner," Little responded. "That's what I like – a challenge. So maybe I'll rush for 200 [yards], who knows."

Duke linebackers Vincent Rey (107 tackles) and Michael Tauiliili (101 tkl) both rank in the ACC's top-five in tackles.

2.) UNC's Pass Defense vs. Duke's Thaddeus Lewis

Quarterback Thaddeus Lewis' play this season has been buried beneath the negative headlines and apathetic fan support of the Duke football program, but the sophomore has completed 54.4 percent of his passes (181-of-333) for 2,211 yards, 19 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

"The quarterback is a guy that not only does he have a good arm and the ability to make plays in the passing game, but he's got good athleticism," Davis said. "It's always a concern about a quarterback that can extend the plays and keeps plays alive because he's such a good athlete. You may think you're starting to get a little bit of pressure on him, and he's got the ability to move around in the pocket, scramble and get outside the pocket."

Lewis has teamed up with wide receiver Eron Riley for nine touchdowns, and despite being tagged an athletic, mobile quarterback, his accuracy is pretty legit. In the Blue Devils' 20-14 victory over Northwestern, he completed 15 consecutive passes and finished 19-of-23 for 246 yards and three scores.

With Duke's ground game only generating 56.6 yards of offense, the North Carolina pass defense will have to capitalize on a heavy pass rush to contain the Blue Devil receivers. Cornerback Kendric Burney (44 tkl, three pass breakups) will most likely cover Riley and linebackers Durell Mapp (120 tkl, seven tackles for loss) and Quan Sturdivant (46 tkl, one int) will have to maintain their assignment responsibilities to prevent Lewis from scrambling for extra yards when the pocket collapses.

3.) UNC's Brandon Tate vs. Duke's Special Teams

During last season's thrilling 45-44 season-ending victory at Duke, Brandon Tate stepped into the record books for the first time, becoming only the ninth player in NCAA history to return a punt (54 yards) and a kickoff (97 yards) for a touchdown in the same game.

Since that time, Tate has become a regular record-breaking weapon, setting the ACC mark for career kickoff return yards last week with 2,360 total yards – as a junior. At his current pace, Tate will shatter the NCAA record (2,734 yards) next season if he stays healthy.

But there is one streak that Tate would like to continue this season – the Burlington, N.C. native returned a kickoff for touchdown in each of his two previous years at North Carolina, but has not chalked one up this season.

Duke place kicker Joe Surgan and his kickoff coverage unit are aiming to make sure that doesn't happen on Saturday. The Blue Devils have been solid in special teams this fall, ranking 23rd-nationally in kickoff coverage by allowing only 19.6 yards per return.

The punt coverage unit hasn't been as impressive, but they've been effective nonetheless, holding opponents to 9.3 yards per return (65th nationally). Much of that credit goes to Kevin Jones, who is averaging 38.8 yards per punt with 14 kicks downed inside the 20-yard line and only two touchbacks.

4.) UNC's Defensive Line vs. Duke's Offensive Line

Despite Duke's perennial vacation spot in the ACC's cellar, this rivalry game continues to generate intensity on both sidelines, and especially in the trenches. Just ask Carolina defensive tackle Kentwan Balmer, who was ejected in 2005 for retaliating to some rough play in the early goings of that 24-21 UNC victory.

"It was a cheap shot, and I didn't know how to walk away from it," Balmer said. "I was young, and I got overly emotional out there and I made a mistake and it cost the team."

Senior defensive end Hilee Taylor (43 tkl, 14.5 tfl, 10 sacks) headlines the Tar Heel defensive line, while Balmer (55 tkl, 7.5 tfl), sophomore defensive end E.J. Wilson (38 tkl, eight tfl) and freshman defensive tackle Marvin Austin (22 tkl, 5.5 tfl) round out a solid UNC front four.

"It's actually not just the defensive end, because they've got two fantastic defensive tackles as well and guys behind him that are probably just as good," Blue Devil senior center Matt Rumsey said. "They've got a real great defensive front, so for us up front, it's just going to be communicating and execution, making sure we're where we need to be, blocking who we need to block and that we're talking the whole time before the snap."

Duke's offensive line has struggled to keep opponents out their backfield, allowing 3.82 sacks (114th nationally) and 7.55 tackles for loss (103rd) per contest. If Lewis and the Blue Devil running backs hope to have any room to develop any sort of offensive balance, the O-line must rise to the occasion and work together to contain the Tar Heel pressure up front.

5.) UNC's Senior Day vs. Duke's Ted Roof

Emotions will be at a fever pitch at Kenan Stadium this weekend for a variety of reasons – rumors surrounding a Butch Davis contract extension, speculation that this may be Duke head coach Ted Roof's last game as a Blue Devil, but more importantly, this game marks the final collegiate contest that North Carolina's 10 scholarship seniors will ever play.

Starters Scott Lenahan, Taylor, Mapp and Balmer represent just a few of the names that will be honored before kickoff at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday.

"I'm going to miss everybody on this team, I'm going to miss the coaching staff [and] miss the fans," Balmer said. "It's hard to say goodbye to Carolina, because once you're in it, you're in it for good. This is my heart."

On the other sideline, Duke University is faced with the unenviable task of deciding if the small, but obvious strides that its football program has taken over the last four seasons is enough to warrant retaining Roof for another season.

The former All-ACC linebacker would rather focus on his kids' efforts than his own personal job security, at least for one more week.

"What makes it frustrating is those kids who put so much into it," Roof said. "If they haven't committed themselves to going all in, it wouldn't be frustrating, but when you invest yourself physically, mentally and emotionally and don't get what you want at the end of the day, it is frustrating. We can't change what's happened in previous weeks. All we can do is put everything we have into this week and see if we can get that good feeling at the end of the day on Saturday."

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