In the days leading up to the North Carolina football team’s matchup with North Carolina State, coach speak died on the radio.
And both Everett Withers and Tom O’Brien killed it.
In an interview with 99.9 The Fan ESPN Radio on Wednesday — just three days before UNC will try to beat N.C. State for the first time in four years — Withers said recruits in North Carolina need to know who the flagship school is.
“They need to know it academically,” Withers said. “If you look at our graduation rates opposed to our opponent this week’s graduation rates for football, I think you’ll see a difference. If you look at the educational environment here, I think you’ll see a difference.”
Thursday, O’Brien fired back at Withers. “As far as the flagship, here was a guy who was on a football staff that ends up in Indianapolis,” O’Brien said to a group of reporters. “You have an agent on staff. You are paying players and you have academic fraud. That’s a triple play as far as the NCAA is concerned.”
Those are hot words, even for coaches of rival schools.
And that, among other things, is what makes Saturday’s game between UNC (6-3, 2-3 ACC) and N.C. State (4-4, 1-3 ACC) possibly the most intriguing game between the two teams in recent years.
In past years, former UNC head football coach Butch Davis treated the week leading up to UNC’s game against N.C. State as any other, but Withers has taken a different route.
“He’s just emphasized a lot how important this game is, and he continues to reiterate the fact that we haven’t beaten them since we’ve been here,” offensive guard Jonathan Cooper said.
The last time UNC beat N.C. State was Nov. 18, 2006 — about a week after the University hired Davis as its head coach and a few weeks before O’Brien was introduced as N.C. State’s coach.
“It’s a shock,” UNC wide receiver Dwight Jones said. “We’ve had numerous good teams that have come through the program, but we haven’t been able to beat them.
“If you haven’t beaten a team in that many years, after a while, it becomes personal. This week, as a whole football unit, it’s personal.”
Jones will be a part of Saturday’s most intriguing matchup. Jones, an all-ACC wide receiver, will be lined up against David Amerson. Amerson leads the nation in interceptions, averaging one per game.
UNC wideout Jheranie Boyd said he thinks Amerson may be the best overall corner in the country, but that doesn’t mean Boyd thinks Amerson can slow Jones down.
“Dwight can go against anybody. There’s no corner that should be able to guard Dwight,” Boyd said.
But for Jones to call it a shock that UNC has gone winless in its last four games against NCSU, may not be too big a stretch when you consider how N.C. State has won past contests against the Tar Heels.
Last season, N.C. State needed a punt return for a touchdown and a ball that was tipped back into the endzone and caught for a touchdown in order to win the game.
Those kinds of plays always seemed possible when the Wolfpack had quarterback Russell Wilson. Wilson was a central piece to each of N.C. State’s last three wins; but now the quarterback is at Wisconsin, where he spent much of the season on Heisman Trophy watch-lists.
“It’s a big loss, losing Russell Wilson,” UNC cornerback Charles Brown said. “He was a great quarterback. I found myself rooting for him a little bit at Wisconsin just because he beat us so bad, I was like, ‘Wow I hope you go out and at least win somewhere else so I don’t feel this bad.’ It’s a big loss for them, but Mike Glennon’s a good quarterback.”
Glennon has shown some potential this season as N.C. State’s starting quarterback, and Brown said it will be crucial for UNC’s defense to get pressure on him to force him into making bad decisions with the ball.
The Tar Heels have had trouble getting to the quarterback lately against the Wolfpack. But UNC wideout Erik Highsmith thinks this year might go a little better for North Carolina.
“Russell Wilson was a great quarterback. He made great plays for them,” Highsmith said. “With him not being on the field, I think that gives our defense the upside on that situation.
“We’re going to come out with a little more excitement, a little more enthusiasm and win this game.”
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