UNC Football: Can the Secondary Keep Forcing Turnovers?


Well it may be a little earlier than usual, but this week marks the annual rivalry between Duke and North Carolina on the gridiron as they meet for the 99th time at Wallace Wade Stadium in Durham, NC. Both schools will be battling it out for the Victory Bell, a trophy that was first introduced to the rivalry in 1948. North Carolina leads the all time series 55-35-4 and has won the bell 40 times to Duke’s 20.

Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE

This game is a little more intense this season than usual. North Carolina typically counts on the Duke victory to put them over the top within the bowl picture on a yearly basis, but with postseason bans being inflicted this season, the only thing the Tar Heels will be playing for is pride. Ironically, the year that North Carolina cannot compete for a bowl, Duke is just one more win away from becoming bowl eligible for the first time in 17 seasons since they lost to Wisconsin in the Hall of Fame bowl in 1995.

It’s unclear how Duke will handle the game environment since they are not going in playing the role of spoiler, but the situation couldn’t stack up more perfectly. As a team, you need one more win and you have a chance to beat your arch rival at home to clinch postseason opportunity. You cannot write a better scenario and the Blue Devils should come out hungry for a big win.

The question now is how will UNC go about winning this game? My answer is simple, force turnovers. Duke, like North Carolina, loves to air the ball out and senior quarterback Sean Renfree has really matured into one of the most effective gun slingers in the ACC. He currently has thrown for 1,517 yards along with 10 touchdowns this season and his offense has scored over 35 ppg as a direct result. I think the one Achilles heel that Renfree possesses is that he has a habit of throwing the ball to the wrong team. To this point, Renfree has thrown six interceptions this season and has only played one ranked team to this point. That should be the top focus for the Tar Heel defense going into this game.

On paper, this game should be a shootout. Both offenses have put points up in droves and the defense has seemed average at times. North Carolina’s defense did show up on the road in Miami last week and will be expected to do the same this week. The big key to the Miami game was that the secondary was able to force turnovers against statistically one of the best quarterbacks in the ACC.

So Jabari Price, Tre Boston, Tim Scott, Darien Rankin, and Gene Robinson will need to be very familiar with Connor Vernon, Jamison Crowder and the rest of a very talented Duke receiving corps going into this week’s game. Eliminating the deep ball similar to how they did this past Saturday is the key. We’ve seen before that UNC’s defensive backfield has a tendency to be beaten down the field. If they corners keep themselves between the receiver and the end zone and the safeties do a good job of helping out over the top then Duke should be contained.

In shoot outs, the defense that makes that one play can usually put the outcome in favor of their team. The Tar Heels secondary needs to make sure they’re that defense. They are about to face another really good quarterback on the road in a really high stakes game. Let’s hope that they can steal a few away from the Blue Devils.