The Tar Heels entered Blacksburg, Va., in September to play the Virginia Tech Hokies in what was supposed to be a breakout campaign for the program.
Following an Orange Bowl appearance and a top-10 preseason ranking, there were high hopes for the team. But the season that has followed — starting with a defeat that night in Virginia — was never able to match those expectations.
The Tar Heels, though, have demonstrated resilience through their struggles and, with a win over Wofford Saturday, were able to secure bowl eligibility. Here is how the Tar Heels can end their regular season on a high note by beating No. 24 N.C. State in Raleigh on Friday night.
Despite their less-than-stellar record this season, UNC has been almost unbeatable at home, winning six of its seven matchups in Chapel Hill this season. The team has shown that it performs better when playing in front of a friendly crowd, outscoring opponents by an average of 14.8 points per game. Kenan Stadium was also the site of the Tar Heels' signature win this season, when they defeated No. 9 Wake Forest in a comeback win.
UNC’s struggles have instead come from away performances, as the Tar Heels possess a 0-4 record on the road and have been outscored by an average of 11.8 points per game. The worst loss was a 23-point defeat by unranked Georgia Tech in late September.
In addition, the Wolfpack are an even better home team than the Tar Heels, boasting an undefeated record in Carter-Finley stadium and the 13th-best home margin of victory in the country.
It will take a special effort from the Tar Heels on Friday to exorcise their demons and win their first away game this season against a strong N.C. State team.
Defense, defense, defense
In a matchup that has two of the top offenses in the country — with both teams averaging at least 33 points per game — the game could ultimately be decided by defense.
The Wolfpack are coming into the game with one of the best scoring defenses in the country, surrendering just 18.7 points per game, to go along with their top-flight offense.
Led by Drake Thomas, the Wolfpack defense has gotten 14 interceptions this season, and when it can’t force turnovers, excels at forcing punts. Against a porous Tar Heel offensive line that has allowed 40 sacks this season, the Wolfpack front seven will look to add to their season total of 28 sacks.
The Tar Heels' defense will look to continue its recent form in the hopes of containing one of the most prolific scoring offenses in the nation. The UNC second-half defense was solid against Pittsburgh, shutting out the Panthers and fueling a second-half comeback that took the game into overtime.
The Tar Heel offense will depend on the defense to get stops against the Wolfpack and keep the team from falling behind early. UNC will also depend on the offense to protect the ball against a hungry Wolfpack defense looking to give its offense a short field to use.
In the final game of the regular season, the Tar Heels have one last chance to show what they are capable of as they begin looking to next year, securing recruits for the future.
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