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November 23, 2006Two teams looking to put a positive final chapter on disappointing seasons square off Saturday at Wallace Wade Stadium.
Neither Duke or North Carolina has anything to look forward to after this week other than the offseason, so the bitter rivals have no reason not to leave everything out on the field.
How do the bitter rivals match up?
Devils Illustrated breaks it down and gives the weekly prediction.
Both teams have had issues at quarterback this season. Duke has gone through the roller coaster ride that comes with playing a true freshman, while North Carolina has tried a couple of different signal callers but has gotten basically the same underwhelming results. Thaddeus Lewis has been a victim of some bad circumstances at times this season, but his own play lately has been rather erratic. His decision making and throwing accuracy have been somewhat lacking in recent weeks, although he deserved a better fate than his stats showed in the Georgia Tech game last week. North Carolina tightened up its offense some in its 23-9 win against NC State. The Tar Heels used a much more conservative approach, particularly in the red zone. Joe Dailey threw just 15 passes the entire game and only one inside the 20-yard line, where he has been prone to turn the ball over. The task for both quarterbacks is virtually the same: manage the game and don't make critical mistakes that rob your team's chances of victory.
A couple of weeks ago, this matchup might have been even as well, but that was when Duke had a healthy Justin Boyle leading its rushing attack. That is no longer the case following Boyle's knee injury suffered at Boston College, and his absence leaves a very noticeable void in the Blue Devil backfield. There are still some talented ball carriers in the group, but last week's outing at Georgia Tech offered little to be excited about running the football. North Carolina running back Ronnie McGill will be one of the most talented players on the field Saturday, and he's coming off a very solid effort against NC State. The Tar Heels really leaned on him against the Wolfpack, and he delivered 101 yards on 26 carries. This week, he encounters a Duke defense that has not stopped anybody lately. Backup Barrington Edwards saw action at running back against NC State last week for the first time since Carolina played Virginia. Edwards was suspended for the Wake Forest and Notre Dame games for violating team rules.
EDGE: Small North Carolina
Statistically, the two teams have been nearly identical in the passing game, and those similarities carry over to the receivers as well. Each team has three primary receivers who can all be dangerous but none have been really consistent. Freshman Hakeem Nicks has been Carolina's top big play threat with a 17 yards per catch average, but senior Jesse Holley is the most experienced and could be the first priority when the Tar Heels need a key catch. Duke's Eron Riley had a strong game at Georgia Tech last week with 99 yards and a touchdown. Raphael Chestnut also added to his solid sophomore campaign despite dropping a potential touchdown pass that could have put Duke up 7-0. Chestnut could be the guy to watch; in his last two games he has combined for 127 yards on 13 catches.
Neither team's strong suit has been running the football. North Carolina ranks ninth in the ACC in rushing offense while Duke is 11th. Both teams have also struggled to protect the quarterback although Duke's problems in that area have been significantly more troublesome. The Blue Devils are likely to be playing shorthanded again. Coach Ted Roof did not sound optimistic this week about the chances of either Cameron Goldberg or Jarrod Holt of playing, although Holt is probably the more likely of the two to play. If neither can go, then Duke will be perilously thin up front and will have to make do with Garrett Mason at left tackle and very little depth across the line. Carolina starts three sophomores on the offensive line, but the Tar Heels do have some valuable experience on the left side, where junior guard Charlston Gray and senior tackle Brian Chacos have made 63 starts between them.
EDGE: Medium North Carolina
The statistics indicate very similar defensive lines, but the recent trends show a different picture. Over the last two games, the Tar Heels have held opponents to a respectable 112 yards per game rushing, while Duke's run defense has completely fallen apart after a strong first half of the season. The same can be said for Duke's pass rush, which over the last three games has accumulated exactly one sack. Carolina hasn't been much better on the pass rush, but Duke will probably struggle to move defensive tackles Shelton Bynum and Kentwan Balmer, who between them weigh about 600 pounds and have been playing better recently.
EDGE: Small North Carolina
Each team has plenty of experience at linebacker, and Carolina has one of the ACC's best in senior Larry Edwardswho for the year leads the team in tackles for loss, sacks, and fumble recoveries. Senior Victor Worsley has been pretty solid at middle linebacker and Durell Mapp is the team's leading tackler at will linebacker. Though the Tar Heel backers have some blame in the team's defensive struggles, they do have a speed advantage over Duke at the position. The Blue Devils have been torched in recent weeks in large part because if the linebackers get out of position at all, they simply don't have the makeup speed to cover their mistake. The group as a whole is capable of some big plays. Codey Lowe has made his share this year while Mike Tauiliili and Jeramy Edwards head into the final game battling it out for the team lead in tackles. A few negative yardage stops would be nice, but the key for Duke's linebackers in this game is to simply be solid in their assignments and wrap up tackles when they have a chance.
EDGE: Small North Carolina
Duke's secondary has a good knack for forcing some turnovers, but that doesn't change the fact that the team is last in the conference in pass defense, last in total defense, last in scoring defense, and last in pass defense efficiency. Since Carolina has been prone to intereptions, it might be wise for the Tar Heels to stay away from John Talley, who enters the game needing two interceptions to tie former Tar Heel Dre Bly for the ACC's career interception lead. Picking on Deonto McCormick will be their best shot at success; it's a strategy that has served other teams very well this season. Carolina's secondary suffered a hit in preseason when safety Trimane Goddard was lost for the year with a foot injury. Had he been on the field all year, the Tar Heels might be better than 11th in the league in pass efficiency defense. Strong safety Kareen Taylor is still a player Duke needs to be aware of though. Taylor has three interceptions on the season. Carolina's pass defense has been far from exceptional this season, but the Tar Heels have been a little better at preventing big gainers through the air. However, much of that is probably due to the team's inability to stop the run.
There's no comparison in the placekicking department. Carolina's Connor Barth is a perfect 9-of-9 on field goals this season. Roof said this week backup walkon kicker Randy DeSmyter would handle extra points and short field goals in place of the struggling Joe Surgan. Surgan has made just 3-of-10 field goals this year and has inexplicably struggled with extra points and short field goals. Carolina also has an edge punting the football. David Wooldridge is averaging more than 41 yards per kick and he's been good at putting the ball inside the 20-yard line. Brandon Tate does a solid job for the Heels on both kick and punt returns, although Duke's Jabari Marshall has been better as a kick returner. Duke's struggles covering punts could haunt the Blue Devils against Carolina. Tate is averaging more than eight yards per punt return and has been close to breaking a couple of long ones this year.
EDGE: Large North Carolina
Every rivalry game has its cliches about how you can throw out the records. Well, for the Blue Devils and Tar Heels, both teams probably wish they could throw out the records.
This is a game about pride and inner strength to salvage something from a season gone terribly awry.
Unfortunately for Duke, the Blue Devils have been trending downward in recent weeks in nearly every facet of the game.
Carolina is coming off its best effort of the year in a 23-9 win over rival NC State.
It's that momentum and Duke's special teams problems that lead us to think the Tar Heels will be able to pull off a road win and retain the Victory Bell.
Prediction: North Carolina 24-14