Personnel update: UNC - LB Merceda Perry (ankle), RB Rufus Brown (shoulder) and CB Anthony Anderson (shoulder) are out. WR Sam Aiken (shoulder) and P John Lafferty (mononucleosis) are questionable.
Duke - WR Bryan Ament (leg), TB Brian Clemmons (knee), CB Temo George (knee), WR Aaron Glaspie (leg), SS B.J. Hill (knee), DT Nate Krill (shoulders, back), OT Christian Mitchell (shoulder), LB Akil Ross (shoulder), WR Khary Sharpe (leg), CB Terrell Smith (leg), OT Wes White (leg) and LB Matt Zielinski (leg) are out. WR Jeremy Battier (leg) and LB Todd DeLamielleure (rib) are questionable.
The key matchup: North Carolina needs to rediscover its passing game, and Saturday is the perfect opportunity.
The Blue Devils rank last in passing defense out of 114 teams in Division I, allowing 277.8 yards per game through the air. Duke has also surrendered the most passing touchdowns (19) in the ACC and allows a league-worst 37.1 points per game.
UNC quarterback Ronald Curry, who has struggled with his accuracy in recent weeks, should be primed for a breakout game. Curry needs 137 yards of total offense and 330 passing yards to establish new school records in those categories.
Curry might have reached those marks already if not for a three-week drought in the passing game. The Tar Heels have not passed for a touchdown since Sept. 30, a span of five games, and are averaging just 143 yards through the air in their last three contests.
"We just have to play the game like we practice," Curry said. "We've been practicing well the last couple of weeks, but come game time things haven't worked out the way they should. We're just going to have to pick it up in the game and play like we practice, and things will be all right."
One of the main reasons for UNC's offensive struggles has been an inability to make big plays. The Tar Heels recorded 21 passing plays of 30 yards or more in their first seven games but have one that long in their last three.
"Offensively, there is no doubt that the last two weeks we have not been as consistent as we would like," UNC coach Carl Torbush said. "The exciting thing about that is that I do feel like we're sitting in a position to explode."
Defenses have kept safeties deep in the middle of the field to keep UNC's wideouts from getting behind them. Duke, however, has been playing a lot of man-to-man in the secondary, and will likely give Curry and Co. some chances to go deep again.
"I hope they do, and I hope we can take advantage of that," said UNC wide receiver Jamal Jones, who has three catches of at least 50 yards. "That's what we're expecting, but they can always switch their game plan. We'll be ready for whatever they throw at us."
Final analysis/prediction: Duke has shown signs of improvement in recent games and almost scored an upset of N.C. State last week before falling 35-31 in Raleigh.
Quarterback D. Bryant set a school record with 16 consecutive completions in that game and is averaging 273.3 yards passing in his last three contests.
Torbush is wary of Bryant's upside and has been saying all week that the teams' records can be thrown out the window because of their great rivalry.
Rivalry? What rivalry?
The Tar Heels have won the past 10 meetings between the schools and have won the last five by an average margin of 34-11.
"The thing is that they haven't won a game this season," UNC senior tight end Alge Crumpler said. "And for them, if they beat us, their feeling will be unmeasurable. That's just something we don't want to have."
There is simply too much at stake for the Tar Heels to overlook the Blue Devils. Forget the Victory Bell and the Carlyle Cup and all of that other stuff.
The Tar Heels need a win to become bowl eligible. They'll get it.
UNC 31, Duke 13
- Compiled by T. Nolan Hayes