Nov. 1, 2013
Thursday Football Notebook
Game 8: NC State Wolfpack vs. North Carolina Tar Heels
November 2, 2013 • 12:30 p.m.
Raleigh, N.C. • Carter-Finley Stadium (57,583)
TV: ACC Network/ESPN3 | Radio: Wolfpack Sports Network | Gametracker
Game Notes | NC State Twitter | Ask the Analyst
RALEIGH, N.C. - Rivalry games in college football tend to produce tense moments, unexpected heroes and unpredictable outcomes. The offshoot of such rivalries are clichés that are uttered year after year. You know the one: “you can throw the records out the window anytime these two teams meet.”
Well, as they get set to meet for the 103rd time Saturday in Raleigh, NC State and North Carolina would probably love to do just that. At 2-5 through seven games, the Tar Heels snapped a four-game losing streak with a convincing win over Boston College last week. The Wolfpack comes in with a 3-4 record.
Time is running out for either team to figure into the postseason bowl picture, which makes Saturday’s game particularly vital for both clubs.
Kick-off from Carter-Finley Stadium is set for 12:30 p.m.
“Coach Doeren has been harping on the fact that it’s a five-game season now,” said NC State cornerback Juston Burris. “Every game is a chance for us to right the ship. We’re on a three-game skid right now, but we can still get to a bowl game, still beat Carolina, still beat Duke and ECU. It’s just a chance to build for next year and even get to a bowl game this year and still come out pretty good.”
Given the already built-in incentives that come naturally in this game, it’s hard to imagine there being any room for added motivation for either team, but there are exceptions.
In the buildup to last year’s game in Chapel Hill, it had become quite obvious from the game-week chatter that North Carolina and its fans were desperate to break a five-game losing streak to State that dated back to 2007. Tar Heels tailback Giovani Bernard then delivered the instant pain relief UNC was looking for with a dramatic 74-yard punt return with just 13 seconds remaining that gave the Tar Heels a 43-35 win.
Bernard’s impact on that game and the North Carolina offense last season was palpable. His absence this year has been nearly as noticeable. With Bernard getting his hands on the football frequently in 2012, the Tar Heels averaged 5.1 yards per rush and 40 points per game. This year, those numbers have taken a dramatic tumble, with UNC putting up averages of 2.8 yards per running play and 25 points per game.
To compensate for the unproductive running game, Carolina coach Larry Fedora has added athletic Marquise Williams to the quarterback mix along with the more established passer, Bryn Renner. Williams has been UNC’s leading rusher in two of the last three games.
“It definitely puts pressure on us,” Burris said. “I know [defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable] is going to have a system set so that we can handle that. We’ll probably have different checks for the different quarterbacks. We’ll have a system that will allow us to handle the different things they can do.”
But will the Wolfpack be able to handle Tar Heels tight end Eric Ebron? On track to become the most productive tight end in school history, the 6-4, 245-pound junior has replaced Bernard as the centerpiece of the North Carolina attack. The team’s leading receiver, Ebron is also a big-play machine with an average of 17.1 yards per reception.
“He’s a great player,” Burris said. “I played with him in the Shrine Bowl. I know from being around him that he talks a lot, but he’s a good guy. From the things he said, that’s how he gets his team pumped up and ready to play; that’s how Carolina handles their business. We’re not going to go on Twitter and talk like he has. We’re just going to come out on Saturday and be ready to play.”
No matter what is said during the week, the scoreboard at the end of the game always has the final word, and for NC State to win the battle on the field, QB Brandon Mitchell will have to produce from the quarterback position. After returning from a five-game absence due to a broken foot, Mitchell had the unenviable task of facing Florida State in his first game back last week. Passing for 128 yards with two interceptions, the fifth-year graduate student was, for obvious reasons, rusty and out of sync.
NC State coach Dave Doeren hopes Mitchell’s rocky experience last week will actually serve him well in this game against North Carolina.
“I look forward to Brandon playing in his second game,” Doeren said. “As a football team, you generally see the most improvement between game one and game two. For him, that’s really what this is this week. He might have played as bad as he could in the first half and he got better as the game went on. He’ll learn a lot from that film. I look forward to seeing his improvement in this game and that can help us.”
In studying tape of NC State, North Carolina has seen very little of Mitchell. He was on the field for only 15 plays before breaking his foot in the opener, and last week probably wasn’t necessarily an accurate barometer for what he’s capable of doing.
“I think they’re trying to get a feel for where they are,” Fedora said. “Losing the quarterback early on was probably tough for them, so they adjusted a little bit with what they were doing offensively. Now they get the quarterback back, which has made it hard on us to figure out how they’re going to attack us. I don’t know what they are right now on offense and I don’t know if they know.”
The answer to that question will be simplified if tailback Shadrach Thornton and the Wolfpack running game can match last week’s production at Florida State. Running with power and verve, Thornton tallied 173 yards and two touchdowns in Tallahassee. Through seven games this season, North Carolina’s defense is yielding better than 200 yards per game and an average of 4.4 yards per game on the ground. And even though the Tar Heels did post an impressive 34-10 victory over Boston College last weekend, they still gave up 202 rushing yards.
“Early in the season they struggled, but you can see they’ve gotten better the last couple of weeks,” said Doeren. “You can see their bye week was used the right way. They’re a 4-2-5 team with a lot pressure, twists and angles with a lot of cover two. They’ve obviously improved to get the results they got against B.C. and Miami.
In a first season on the job that has been sabotaged by untimely injuries and limited depth at key positions, Doeren is well aware of the fact that a win this week could have a major impact on the rest of this season and on in-state recruiting efforts.
Not very long after he first set foot into the Murphy Football Center before his introductory press conference 11 months ago, Doeren was already hearing the words “beat Carolina.”
“It’s exciting to be involved in my first one,” he said. “I’ve been involved in a lot of great rivalries and all of them are really special. I know this one is unique just because of the proximity of the two schools. Our players run into their players and our coaches run into their coaches, which makes it a special game.”
So with that, you can throw the records out the window.
The Wolfpack Sports Network begins its pregame coverage Saturday with the Mathews Motors Countdown to Kickoff at 10:30 a.m. In hour two of the pregame show, former NC State All-American Johnny Evans fields your questions about NC State football on ‘Ask the Analyst’ presented by Farm Bureau. Send Johnny a question on Twitter @packradio or by email here.
Following the football broadcast, the Wolfpack Sports Network will also provide live coverage of the NC State men’s basketball team’s exhibition game against Morehouse from PNC Arena at 5 p.m.