Countdown to Kickoff: UNC vs. Duke

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – North Carolina heads into its season-ending grudge match with Duke having lost three of its last five games, but the Tar Heels are hoping to leave Wallace Wade Stadium on Saturday with its eighth win of the season for the first time since 2001.

North Carolina has lost two straight games, including last weekend's embarrassing 41-10 loss to instate rival N.C. State on senior day in Chapel Hill. After responding to their first two losses of the season with solid victories, the Tar Heels were flat and uninspired against the Wolfpack, just seven days after a heartbreaking loss at Maryland.

UNC head coach Butch Davis insists there's plenty of reason to believe his program will show up with a renewed intensity this weekend.

"I think our kids do a good job of looking at film, they listen, I think they are conscientious about trying to improve and to eliminate the mistakes, and certainly there ‘s certainly enough areas of improvement that we've got this week that we need to make over the last two weeks' performances," Davis said on Monday.

The coaching staff continues to preach a week-to-week, game-to-game mentality to the team, and the players have shown no sign of losing track of that goal.

"We have to get back to work and be ready to play Saturday," defensive end Robert Quinn said. "We have to pick our head back up and focus on Duke and get this thing back on track again. We can not stay down, if we stay down it will continue to get worse. I take it as put it behind us and let's get on track."

Looking strictly at the records between these two programs over the last 18 seasons, it would be easy to assume that Saturday would provide a great opportunity for North Carolina to return to its winning ways, as UNC holds a 17-1 mark during that span. But a closer look reveals that six of the last seven contests have been decided by eight points or less, including last season's 20-14 overtime victory for the Tar Heels. Nick Maggio hooked a 40-yard field goal attempt wide left at the end of regulation in what would have been a game-winning kick for Duke.

None of the Blue Devils' seniors have won against North Carolina, as the last win (30-22) occurred in Chapel Hill in 2003.

Duke (4-7, 1-6 ACC) has also encountered some late season troubles after winning three of its first four games of the year. The Blue Devils are winless in November, due in part to an injury to starting quarterback Thad Lewis (1,893 yards on 190-of-311 passing for 14 TD and 5 INT). The junior suffered a mid-foot sprain against Clemson, and is expected to see action against North Carolina.

"Thad worked on Sunday and worked this morning," Duke head coach David Cutcliffe said Tuesday. "How far he gets will determine how much he plays. I expect him to play. I don't know if he's going to play a lot, but we're getting both guys as ready as we can get him."

North Carolina has been working through an unwanted quarterback controversy itself, as T.J. Yates return to action against N.C. State was more of a fizzle than a spark, completing 10 of his 22 passing attempts for 116 yards and an interception. Cam Sexton wasn't any better in relief, going 4-of-6 for 31 yards and two interceptions. But Davis plans to start his red-shirt sophomore again on Saturday, relegating Sexton to the bench once again.

Neither quarterback has been able to jumpstart a Tar Heel offense that had shown glimpses of improvement just several weeks ago. North Carolina has averaged just 244 total yards of offense in its past two losses.

"We have to get back on track with what we have been doing all year," senior right tackle Garrett Reynolds said. "We have to get back to running downhill and doing the things we do well. We need to stick with it and really work hard at it. Anytime you can run the ball well it will open up your entire playbook. We have to keep our defense off the field, we can not go in and go three and out all the time."

Before the season began, most Tar Heel fans would have been ecstatic with an 8-4 record in Davis' second year in Chapel Hill. But a loss on Saturday would conclude a late-season collapse that would leave many around the program scratching their heads.

Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m. on Saturday (ESPNU).

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