Thursday Football Notebook
Pack Looking to Repeat Recent Success Against North Carolina
Game 8: NC State Wolfpack (5-2, 2-1) at North Carolina Tar Heels (5-3, 2-2)
October 27, 2012 12:30 p.m. Acc Network
Chapel Hill, N.C. Kenan Stadium (63,000)
TV: ACC Network | Radio: Wolfpack Sports Network | Gametracker
Game Notes | #GoPack Twitter Talk | NC State Twitter | Ask the Analyst
For a team that has enjoyed the spoils of a five-game winning streak against rival North Carolina (5-3, 2-2), NC State players were speaking in rather humble and measured tones this week as they prepared for Saturday's 12:30 p.m. clash with the Tar Heels at Kenan Stadium.
There was no chest pumping, nor were their declarations of "we own them." The question of "who's your daddy?" was never uttered within the confines of the Murphy Football Center. Instead, there was simply a realistic acknowledgement that this is a new year featuring different teams and a new set of circumstances.
"It's a big game, but they have a new coaching staff and we have a couple of new coaches on this staff," said Wolfpack running back Tony Creecy, a Durham native who admits that he once rooted for North Carolina as a youngster. "This game is zero and zero right now with their new staff and this rivalry. We can't depend on the past; we've got to write our own history."
An NC State win would indeed be an historic event since the Wolfpack has never beaten UNC six consecutive times. Coach Tom O'Brien's current five-game winning streak in the series matches a streak that was authored by Dick Sheridan from 1988 to 1992.
During his weekly radio show on Monday night, O'Brien praised the modest comments of his players, saying "those are my boys!"
O'Brien understands that there has been a growing restlessness in Chapel Hill over the last five years, a high-level of annoyance that was repeatedly expressed to Larry Fedora on the very first day he was introduced as UNC's 34th head coach last December.
"It's been a one-sided situation over the last five years," said Fedora. "It's something obviously that our guys are aware of and our fans are very much aware of. I think everybody in the program is aware of it and what has to be done."
Fedora inherited a program that was eventually hit with a three-year NCAA probation spurred by violations that occurred during the tenure of his predecessor, Butch Davis. Sanctions include a one-year ban from a bowl game, meaning the Tar Heels are not eligible to participate in the ACC Championship game or a bowl game this season. With that, some have characterized this NC State match-up as a bowl substitute for UNC.
"Because of that situation, we've tried to approach every game this season like it's a bowl game for us," Fedora said. "We're running out of opportunities. This is the next one and it's the big one because it's our rivalry game. Everyone understands the importance of it."
While O'Brien has urged his players to resist the temptation of providing North Carolina with bulletin board material this week, he admits that it's a futile endeavor for them to escape the obvious hype that is so prevalent in the days leading up to the game.
"There are certain games that are special because of all the influence on the outside looking in," O'Brien said. "No matter where you go or what you do, whether it's in the social media or on campus, that's all that's going to be talked about. That's the way a game against North Carolina is for North Carolina State."
While a lot of attention is placed on the game itself, O'Brien and his defensive coaches will be dedicating a lot of their attention on Tar Heels tailback Giovani Bernard, the ACC's rushing leader with an average of 132 yards per game. In the Wolfpack's 13-0 shutout of UNC last season in Raleigh, State's swarming defense held Bernard to just 47 yards on 18 carries. Throw in five sacks and tackles for loss, Carolina managed just three net yards rushing as a team.
But...hitchhiking on Tony Creecy's comments about this being a different year with a new coaching staff, it's evident that Fedora's uptempo, no-huddle spread attack has only served to make Bernard even more effective as both a runner and pass-catcher.
"We need to come out and play with the same intensity we played with last year," said Wolfpack safety Earl Wolff. "People say we're not road warriors and not that good on the road, but if you can't get hyped for the Carolina game then you shouldn't walk on the field that day. We're just going to try to stop their offense and win that game."
Bernard, tight end Eric Ebron, receiver Erik Highsmith and accurate quarterback Bryn Renner give UNC plenty of weapons at the skill positions, but it's the big guys up front who are greatly responsible for fueling an offense that averages 39 points per game. Anchored by Outland Trophy candidate and left guard Jonathan Cooper, the Tar Heels have allowed only five sacks all season.
"They've got three seniors up there and a junior at left tackle," O'Brien said. "You look at Cooper up front and he might be a first round guy. This is going to be the best offensive line that we'll play against this year."
The Carolina offense has been particularly explosive on home turf this season, averaging 50 points in Kenan Stadium wins over Elon, East Carolina, Idaho and Virginia Tech. The Tar Heels have outscored their opponents 146-44 in the second half of eight games.
Don't be surprised if the scoreboard gets a workout on Saturday. While the Carolina offense has piled up the points, its defense has occasionally been somewhat leaky, especially the last two weeks. After giving up 180 rushing yards to Miami two weeks ago, the Tar Heels yielded 234 yards on the ground to Duke in a 33-30 loss to the Blue Devils last Saturday.
And while NC State has improved its rushing attack this season, averaging 130 yards per game (up from 105 last year), the Wolfpack still hangs much of its offensive hopes on the strong right arm of senior quarterback Mike Glennon. Not only does Glennon lead the ACC in passing (284 ypg.), he's often been at his best with the game on the line in the fourth quarter. In the fourth quarter of the last three games, he's engineered a total of six scoring drives, including marches that produced game-winning points in back-to-back victories over Florida State and Maryland.
"We've had a lot of confidence in Mike since the beginning of the season because of his age," Creecy said. "He's been here for five years. Even when he wasn't playing and backing up Russell [Wilson], he knew the playbook. I knew he'd been good in those situations because we practiced those plays in the spring and in summer camp. Coach O'Brien gets us prepared for those situations."
Glennon may very well be NC State's `ace in the hole' should Saturday's game come down to a final drive in the waning seconds, and there's every reason to believe that could happen. Three of the Wolfpack's victories during the five-game winning streak have been by four points or less. In its last visit to Chapel Hill two years ago, State used an 82-yard punt return by T.J. Graham in the fourth quarter to walk off with a 29-25 win.
Rivalries like this one are unique because players on both sides know each other, some even played with or against one another going back to their pee-wee football days. Like some of his NC State teammates, Creecy will have some friends on the field wearing light blue on Saturday afternoon.
"I know a few of their players," he said. "I'm friends with them right now, but on Saturday I won't be."
The Wolfpack Sports Network will have a full day of coverage on Saturday starting with the `Inside Wolfpack Sports' TV show, which will air on MASN and Fox Sports South at 8:30 a.m. On radio, pregame coverage begins live from Kenan Stadium at 10:30 a.m.
To submit questions to our Wolfpack Sports Network broadcasters before, during and after the North Carolina game, use Twitter/@packradio. Color analyst Johnny Evans will also field questions during the pregame show on Ask the Analyst. Submit a question to Johnny and the crew by going here.
The Last Meeting
November 5, 2011
Shutout Leads to Fifth-Straight over UNC
For the fifth-straight year, NC State scored a rivalry win over North Carolina, this time behind a smothering defensive effort that limited the Tar Heels to 32 yards of total offense in the first half as the Wolfpack notched a 13-0 win Saturday at Carter-Finley Stadium.