The recipe for success for both teams this season has been remarkably similar – stingy defenses paired with a bruising ground game.
North Carolina is ranked in the top-15 nationally in all four major defensive categories – eighth in total defense (268.0), ninth in rushing defense (94.1), 11th in pass efficiency defense (100.82), 13th in scoring defense (16.2) and 15th in passing defense (173.9). UNC also sits in the No. 8 spot nationally in third-down defense, allowing its opponents to convert just 30.7 percent (47 of 153) of their opportunities.
But what has made the Tar Heels terrifying on that side of the ball recently is their knack for creating turnovers, having forced 16 in the last five games after only seven to their credit in the opening five contests.
"They are clicking on all cylinders right now," Eagles safety Wes Davis told the school's student paper, The Heights. "They have raw talent. At every level of their defense, they have NFL players. They probably have the best defense in the ACC right now, statistically and just by watching them play."
UNC head coach Butch Davis is asking his offense to be efficient while taking advantage of its scoring opportunities, and the unit has done just that. The Tar Heels are averaging 178.2 rushing yards per game in their last five games, but what's been most impressive is quarterback T.J. Yates' work in the red zone – UNC ranks ninth nationally in red zone percentage this season, converting 29 of 31 attempts.
Carolina has capitalized on its last 19 red zone opportunities.
Such efficient play on both sides of the ball explains why North Carolina has exploded up the turnover margin rankings, moving from 106th after Week 5 to 43rd in Week 11.
First-year Boston College head coach Frank Spaziani counters with a near-identical package, boasting tailback Montel Harris (221 rushes for 1,081 yards, 13 TD) and several All-ACC caliber offensive linemen in center Matt Tennant and left tackle Anthony Castonzo.
"Spaz" earned his shot as the Eagles' head coach after a decade as the coordinator for one of the nation's top defenses. Things haven't changed much on that front, as Boston College ranks 30th nationally in total defense (326.6 ypg) and 22nd in scoring defense (18.5).
"They are as big and physical in their front seven as anybody that you will play," said Davis, who is 7-0 all-time against Boston College. "Their linebackers look like defensive ends. They're all 6-foot-3, 245-pound kids. And they are playing extremely well this year."
While both programs have already qualified for postseason play, Saturday's contest will have significant bowl implications. If Boston College defeats North Carolina and then takes care of business next week against hapless Maryland, the Eagles will be guaranteed a higher bowl bid than UNC due to the ACC's one-loss rule.
That would all but eliminate the Tar Heels from consideration for the Chick-fil-A and Gator Bowls as Boston College is not an attractive option for those destinations.
A North Carolina win clinches the Atlantic Division title for Clemson, who holds the tiebreaker after defeating the Eagles, 25-7, on Sept. 19.
But after closing the '07 slate with a 1-2 record and limping home with a 1-3 mark last fall, the Tar Heels are intent on reversing their late-season trends.
"Last year was kind of when we hit a speed bump after we got that bowl-eligible win," Yates said. "We don't want to do that again. We've talked about it as a team, trying to get past the whole bowl-eligible thing and focus on what we have to do… We can't afford to take another speed bump this late in the season."
As far as program building goes, a win on Saturday would give North Carolina an 8-3 record heading into the season finale with rival N.C. State. The Tar Heels finished last season with an 8-4 regular season record.
"Any time that you win, you have a chance to get closer to equaling or surpassing last year's performance," Davis said. "There's a lot to play for."
Kickoff is set for noon at Alumni Stadium on ESPN2.