The Daily Tar Heel

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Wednesday June 7th

UNC football looks to secure Victory Bell against Duke

First-year quarterback, Drake Maye (10), throws the ball in Kenan Stadium on Sept. 24, 2022 against Notre Dame. UNC lost 45-32.
Buy Photos First-year quarterback, Drake Maye (10), throws the ball in Kenan Stadium on Sept. 24, 2022 against Notre Dame. UNC lost 45-32.

Games between Duke and North Carolina always have some added intensity regardless of how good or bad the teams are, but this Saturday’s football matchup might be the most anticipated battle between the two schools on the gridiron in quite some time.

UNC enters this weekend’s game 5-1 for the first time since 2015 and for only the fourth time since 2000. Duke comes in at 4-2 under new head coach Mike Elko, although the Blue Devils suffered their first ACC loss to Georgia Tech last Saturday. The team is coming off a two-season stretch in which it posted a record of 1-17 in conference play, so to start off with a .500 record through two ACC games is a massive deal for the program.

A win on Saturday night at Wallace Wade Stadium would put the Tar Heels even further ahead in the Coastal Division and the team would clinch bowl eligibility for the fourth time in four seasons under head coach Mack Brown. Here are three ways the Tar Heels can make that happen:

Avoid costly turnovers

UNC redshirt first-year quarterback Drake Maye’s first five games were spectacular in a number of ways, but perhaps the most surprising aspect of them was his lack of turnovers.

Through those five games, Maye threw only one interception against Georgia State. The last game against Miami, though, was a different story, as he threw two interceptions on consecutive throws, one to end the first half and one to start the second half.  

The turnovers resulted in only three points for the Hurricanes thanks to a couple of great defensive possessions for the Tar Heels, but they seemingly took the offense completely out of rhythm for most of the second half.

In order to bounce back this weekend, the team also hopes to take the pressure off Maye by utilizing its other offensive weapons.

"The more we distribute the ball to our running backs, wide receivers and tight ends, I think the less they can pay attention to Drake Maye," offensive coordinator Phil Longo said.

Against a Duke offense that has only turned the ball over three times in six games this year and is top 20 nationally in turnover margin, it will be critical to protect the ball like Maye was able to do throughout the first part of the season. 

Limit Riley Leonard’s rushing ability

Fresh off getting torched through the air for 496 passing yards by Miami’s Tyler Van Dyke, UNC will have another challenge to deal with in the form of Duke’s sophomore quarterback Riley Leonard.

“It seems now that everyone has a good quarterback,” Brown said during a Monday morning press conference.

Leonard has been very efficient through the air for Duke, but his running ability is what has added another dimension to the Blue Devils’ offense this season. Leonard leads the Blue Devils in rushing yards when you take out his lost yardage from sacks, and ranks second on the team in yards per carry (among players with at least five carries). 

Gene Chizik, assistant coach for defense, lauded Leonard's scrambling ability and also added that he is “really impressive on the perimeter” and in the quarterback draw game. 

Leonard’s arm could pose a test for a Tar Heel secondary that has struggled at times in pass coverage this season, but his legs are a unique weapon that the Blue Devils will look to utilize frequently on Saturday.

Stay resilient

The Tar Heels have played in some very dramatic games thus far. But despite all the adversity, Brown’s team has emerged through the first half of the regular season with only one loss to Notre Dame. 

Brown praised his team’s resiliency after the close game against Miami last Saturday, mentioning that there was no panic on the sidelines regardless of what was happening in the game. Such an attitude has been critical for UNC to escape close road games against the Hurricanes, Appalachian State and Georgia State unscathed.

“Your program is elevated by winning close games,” Brown said.

It hasn’t always been pretty, but the Tar Heels are on track for one of their best seasons since 2000. Regardless of how it happens, a fourth consecutive win over Duke on Saturday night would go a long way toward continuing on that track.  


@dthsports |

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