The Wolfpack are on a roll after beating Florida State two weeks ago, but UNC is a dangerous opponent. The Tar Heels are coming off a loss to their other in-state rival, Duke, and since they’re ineligible for the postseason, this rivalry game is their season.
N.C. State’s win streak started in head coach Tom O’Brien‘s first year, with a goal line stand to win. In 2011, the Wolfpack shut out UNC for the first time since 1960, knocking quarterback Bryn Renner out of the game and holding the team to three rushing yards.
The Tar Heels have never lost six straight to “State” – and they don’t intend to start now, in Larry Fedora‘s first season as head coach.
Both teams have solid defenses: the Tar Heels are 26th nationally in scoring defense, allowing an average of 19.3 points per game, but N.C. State is right on their heels at 28th, separated by less than a point per game.
On offense, both teams have veteran passers in Renner and N.C. State’s Mike Glennon. Renner leads the ACC in passing touchdowns with 17, while Glennon’s 284 yards per game average is the conference’s best.
One key to the outcome of the game will be how well each team can protect the quarterback. The Herald-Sun pointed out this week that UNC quarterbacks have been sacked 11 times in the last two games, for a loss of 102 total yards.
Renner’s gunning for payback after being forced out of last year’s match-up with a mild concussion, but the Wolfpack is leading the ACC with 22 sacks on the year. They’ll be going up against a Tar Heels offensive line that’s stronger than it was in 2011; UNC is fifth nationally in sacks allowed, surrendering just five in eight games.
The offensive lines for both teams will also be critical to establishing the run. Both teams are very effective passing, but per The Herald-Sun, the team with the most rushing yards has won 18 of the last 20 games between the two.
The Tar Heels certainly seem to have the edge when it comes to the ground game, but that hasn’t translated to the box scores in the last few years. UNC rushed for minus-four yards total in the last two games.
The Tar Heels will try to get more going than that, behind left guard Jonathan Cooper. Cooper has been the primary blocker for Bernard, whose 132 yards per game average is good enough for fifth in the nation. Bernard has also rushed for 795 yards, almost as many as the entire N.C. State team. He’s leading the ACC with 7.7 yards per carry, but last year, the Wolfpack D held him to just 47 yards on 18 carries.
N.C. State doesn’t have anyone on the roster quite like Bernard (but then again, few teams do). Tony Creecy is the leading rusher with 81 carries for 319 yards. He’s shared carries with Shadrach Thomas, who has 55 caries for 282 yards.
A Wolfpack win keeps N.C. State in prime position for a run for the ACC Atlantic Division title. The team is 2-1 in conference, and they already have a win over Florida State, the favorite to win it.
An N.C. State win would also have the potential to throw the Tar Heels into a tailspin, with back-to-back losses to in-state rivals (not to mention the loss to Wake Forest earlier in the year) and nothing to play for at the end of the year due to NCAA sanctions.
“I don’t want to leave my senior year and say I lost to Duke and State. That would be just devastating,” UNC defensive tackle Sylvester Williams told the media this week.
Regardless of who wins, if it’s anything like the last few meetings between these two teams (a goal line stand, a Hail Mary, and a big comeback win), it’s bound to be an exciting game.
Or, as N.C. State safety Earl Wolff put it: “There’s going to be some fireworks.”