In one of the oldest, most well-known rivalries in college football, a matchup between the North Carolina Tar Heels and the Duke Blue Devils never fails to be competitive. Whether on the basketball court or the football field, this is a rivalry staked in the history books.
Coming off of a second loss to an unranked team this season, the UNC football team (4-2, 4-2 ACC) is looking to defeat rival Duke (2-5, 1-5 ACC). After narrowly losing to Virginia this past weekend, UNC must rely on a strong defensive effort to withstand the Blue Devils' running game, as well as an efficient offensive strategy that takes advantage of every opportunity.
Improving defensive performance
The South’s Oldest Rivalry tarnished UNC’s record yet again last week, due largely to another inconsistent performance from the front seven of the Tar Heel's defense. North Carolina allowed Virginia to accumulate a total of 210 rushing yards in comparison to its own 93 total rushing yards. In last week’s game versus UNC-Charlotte, Duke running back duo Deon Jackson and Mataeo Durant combined for 205 yards and four rushing touchdowns to seal the victory for the Blue Devils. Stopping a highly capable Duke running game will be critical for the Tar Heels to earn a victory in this rivalry matchup.
Although it's not the defensive side of the ball, the UNC offensive line will have to do a better job of defending its quarterback. North Carolina allowed sophomore quarterback Sam Howell to be sacked five times throughout last week's game. Each sack resulted in a loss greater than five yards and allowed momentum to shift in Virginia’s direction. It will be essential for the Tar Heel offensive line to protect and defend Howell in the pocket versus Duke.
Creating and capitalizing on offensive opportunities
It is no secret that UNC has a strong running game, boasting two of the top running backs in the ACC with Javonte Williams and Michael Carter. However, Williams and Carter only combined to rush for a total of 121 yards against Virginia — a mark well short of what the duo is used to, considering they each averaged over 100 rushing yards per contest heading into last Saturday's game.
The performance of this powerhouse duo has been essential to the success of the North Carolina offense all season. The pair must be helped by the protection of the offensive line to accumulate rushing yards and beat Duke this weekend.
The highlight of the North Carolina offense against Virginia was the passing game. The connection between Howell and his wide receivers, Dyami Brown and Dazz Newsome, was the Tar Heels' best shot at generating points, as Brown scored three of the four receiving touchdowns for North Carolina. Continuing to use the passing game between Howell, Brown and Newsome will be essential to coming out on top versus Duke this weekend, especially if the running game underperforms again.
Fixing the little mistakes
UNC was forced to kick for a field goal three times throughout the matchup versus Virginia. Graduate student kicker Grayson Atkins scored on two of the three field goals attempted, but since UNC lost by three, the Tar Heels should capitalize on all field goal opportunities to put meaningful points on the board.
The Tar Heels were plagued by four fumbles in the second and third quarters against UVA. Two of them were recovered by Virginia, causing UNC to lose both possession and momentum on those drives. Against Duke, North Carolina's running backs must keep a steel grip on the ball. The Tar Heels need to eliminate these forced fumbles, but also be ready to recover them if they want to bring home the "Battle of the Blues."
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