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The Daily Tar Heel

Preview: Keys for a UNC football bounce-back win on Rivalry Weekend against N.C. State


UNC sophomore running back, Elijah Green (21), runs toward the end zone to score the first touchdown of the evening during the football game against Georgia Tech at Kenan Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022.

As Mack Brown took the podium for his Monday morning press conference, his first order of business wasn't discussing his own team. Instead, he congratulated Georgia Tech.    

On Saturday, the North Carolina football team added a second loss to its record thanks to the Yellow Jackets, dropping UNC's ranking five spots to No. 18 in the AP Poll.

Brown said the team knew it was a trap game, and yet the Tar Heels still fell right into the hole. 

“Nobody feels sorry for you,” Brown said regarding the loss. “You gotta do it yourself. You gotta pick yourself up and go.”

Here’s a few of the pieces the Tar Heels will need to pick up in order to best N.C. State on Friday night. 

Respond to a physical Wolfpack defense 

Throughout the season, N.C. State has undergone many changes. The Wolfpack have experimented with different quarterbacks after Devin Leary’s season-ending injury and have constantly shifted their offensive schemes. 

One thing that has stayed constant this season is the Wolfpack's physical and effective defensive line.

“They’ve played great defense, not good defense,” Brown said. “Drake Thomas, Isaiah Moore and Payton Wilson are three of the best linebackers in the country.”

The consistency of this defense is reflected in the numbers it puts up — good enough for No. 21 in the country in total defense. In order to come out on top, UNC must counter the aggressiveness of the Wolfpack's defensive line with its own brute strength.

“Either you’re going to win the physical battle or you’re not going to win the game,” UNC offensive coordinator Phil Longo said. “It's potentially one of the best, if not the best, defense that we’ve seen this year, and the violence and the physicality part is their biggest strength.”

Prepare for an unknown offensive threat 

For the second week in a row, UNC is preparing to face off against a team who is on their third-string quarterback. First-year quarterback MJ Morris, who initially stepped into the shoes of Leary, was injured in N.C. State’s crushing loss to Boston College. 

In last Saturday’s game against Louisville, the Wolfpack redshirt first-year Ben Finley split snaps with graduate quarterback Jack Chambers. It is unclear which quarterback N.C. State will turn to on Friday, but UNC is making it their mission to be ready for whoever walks on the field. 

“It's a little bit of a cat and mouse game,” UNC assistant head coach for defense Gene Chizik said. “You're not really sure who’s gonna show up, but you definitely have to prepare for both.” 

Brown was quick to emphasize that North Carolina will not be underestimating Finley or Chambers, despite them not being starters for the Wolfpack. 

“We just got beat by a team that played their third and fourth-team quarterbacks,” he said. “All the quarterbacks are good. (They) wouldn't be there if they weren't good.” 

Seize scoring opportunities in the red zone

Although the Tar Heels made it to the red zone five times on Saturday, the team was only able to score a touchdown on two of these chances, leaving a plethora of points on the table. Longo listed the missed points as the reason that North Carolina lost the game. 

“One touchdown out of those red zone drives and it probably gives you the win,” he said. “There are a multitude of different plays that we could have made in the red zone earlier in the game and we wouldn't have been in that situation at the end of the game.” 

In order to emerge victorious on Friday, UNC will have to take advantage of their time in the red zone.

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Nevertheless, the Tar Heels said they won't let the past drag their future down. While they are acknowledging their mistakes and working to fix them, Brown said they don’t want to spend too much time thinking about what could have been if they had beaten Georgia Tech. 

“You cannot let one loss beat you twice,” Brown said. 


@dthsports |

Gwen Peace

Gwen Peace is the 2023-24 assistant sports editor at The Daily Tar Heel. She has previously served as a senior writer. Gwen is a sophomore pursuing a double major in media and journalism and peace, war and defense.