UNC Football: Previewing Duke


A long standing rivalry, usually overlooked in football, is renewed this Saturday when the North Carolina Tar Heels travel to Wallace Wade Stadium to square off with the rival Duke Blue Devils.

Nov, 26, 2011; Chapel Hill, NC, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels running back Giovani Bernard (26) runs near the sideline as Duke Blue Devils cornerback Ross Cockrell (6) defends in the first quarter at Kenan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-US PRESSWIRE

Although both football programs don’t get the respect or recognition as their basketball counterparts, the North Carolina-Duke rivalry goes beyond the hardwood.

While the series is a little one-sided in recent memory – North Carolina leads 58-36-4 overall but has dominated over the past two decades – compared to the basketball rivalry (North Carolina leads 132-102), the intensity and disdain for each other is still there.

North Carolina (5-2, 2-1 ACC) has defeated Duke (5-2, 2-1 ACC) eight consecutive times and has won 21 of the last 22 in the rivalry.
David Cutcliffe is slowly turning the Blue Devils awful football program around, but he has yet to beat his rival from Chapel Hill. Since taking over in 2008, Cutcliffe is 0-4 against the Tar Heels by an average margin of 10.5 points a game.

Duke started 2-0 in ACC play with wins over Wake Forest and Virginia and jumped out to a 20-0 first quarter lead over Virginia Tech. The Blue Devils looked primed to upset the Hokies and throw its name into the ACC Coastal discussion.

Then it all went downhill. Virginia Tech would score 41 unanswered points en route to a 41-20 blowout of the Blue Devils.
Even with the Blue Devils falling back down to reality in the final three quarters a week ago, they’re still a much improved team that won’t back down from anyone.

They have an above-average quarterback in Sean Renfree (141-201 1517 yards 10 TD 6 INT 70%) that has already matched Duke’s highest win total since 1994.

Duke’s 291.3 passing yards a game is 25th in the country and they score 35.3 points a game, which is good enough for 34th in the country. They struggle running the ball (111.1 a game, 108th in country) and stopping explosive offenses (27.4 points allowed, 72nd in country).

Duke figures to score a couple of times and might make the game interesting, but at the end of the day, their defense and lack of playmakers will be their downfall. North Carolina’s offense is just too explosive for Duke’s defense.
North Carolina’s offensive numbers are impressive: 276.0 passing yards (36th), 210.6 rushing yards (30th) and 40.3 points a game (21st).

The offensive numbers aren’t surprising under Larry Fedora’s system, but it is a bit of a shock how fast Fedora has his offense up to speed with players recruited to run a pro-style offense. Bryn Renner running this offense is like fitting a square peg in a round hole, but North Carolina is making it work.

It might not be the most gracious offense at times, especially when Renner is running the read-option, but it’s still statistically one of the best in the conference. North Carolina is one of three teams in the ACC to average over 40 points a game while their defense is only giving up 17.3 points a game.

Duke will find out what kind of team it really has with five straight tough conference games over the next six weeks. After facing the Tar Heels, Duke travels to Florida State, hosts Clemson and travels to Georgia Tech before wrapping up their regular season at home against the Miami Hurricanes.

Winning against Florida State or Clemson is highly unlikely, so Duke will likely be fighting for their bowl eligibility in the final two weeks if they can’t upset North Carolina this weekend.

With a win this weekend, North Carolina will not only extend its winning streak against Duke to nine games, it will also extend its winning streak this season to five games. After consecutive losses to Wake Forest and Louisville by a combined six points, the Tar Heels have four straight victories including two straight against ACC Coastal foes Virginia Tech and Miami.

With a very winnable schedule over the final six weeks (vs. NCSU, vs. GT, @ UVA, vs. Maryland), North Carolina has a legitimate shot to finish the season with nine consecutive victories.

While they deal with a one-year bowl ban this season, the momentum of nine straight wins and a 10-2 record would be enormous heading into next season. It would be great for recruiting, team morale and the overall future outlook for North Carolina football.

Be patient, Tar Heel nation. It may take a little time to get past the mess he was left in, but Larry Fedora is building a winner. He’s building it with a hard-nosed defense and an explosive offense. He’s building it with better athletes and facilities than he could dream of at Southern Miss. He’s building it the right way.

He’s building it the Larry Fedora way.