North Carolina (5-2) at Duke (5-2)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, October 20, 7:00 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Wallace Wade Stadium (33,941) -- Durham, North Carolina. Television: ESPN U. Home Record: North Carolina 4-0, Duke 4-0. Away Record: North Carolina 1-2, Duke 1-2. Neutral Record: North Carolina 0-0, Duke 0-0. Conference Record: North Carolina 2-1, Duke 2-1. Series Record: North Carolina leads, 58-36-4.
GAME NOTES: A long-standing rivalry will be renewed this Saturday when the North Carolina Tar Heels take a trip down Tobacco Road to square off with the Duke Blue Devils in Atlantic Coast Conference action at Wallace Wade Stadium.
North Carolina comes into this game riding a ton of momentum after winning its fourth straight game last weekend, a 18-14 road win against Miami-Florida. The Tar Heels are now 5-2 overall on the season, including a 2-1 ledger against fellow ACC squads. The win was the first road victory for the Tar Heels under Larry Fedora and the first at Miami since 2008.
After a strong start, Duke crumbled on the road in a 41-20 loss to Virginia Tech in its most recent matchup. The Blue Devils led 20-0 in the first quarter but were outscored 41-0 the rest of the way in the loss. The loss ended a four-game winning streak for the Blue Devils. Still at 5-2 overall this season Duke has already matched its best win total since 1994.
Unlike the more famous basketball rivalry between these schools, the football version has been much less even. North Carolina owns a 58-36-4 all-time record against Duke, including wins in eight straight and 21 of the last 22 meetings. Duke has been close in the recent past though with five of the last eight games decided by eight points or less. Last season North Carolina pulled out a 37-21 win at home.
The Tar Heels have been one of the best offenses in the ACC this season. North Carolina ranks fourth in total offense (486.6 ypg) and is one of only three teams in the league to average more than 40 points per game. That high scoring rate comes despite North Carolina ranking third worst in red zone efficiency (76.3 percent).
Leading the offense is quarterback Bryn Renner who has enjoyed a very good season. Renner has thrown for an ACC-best 15 touchdown passes and 1,830 yards, while completing 62.7 percent of his throws with only five interceptions. Renner did struggle against Miami, completing 25-of-40 passes for 214 yards with an interception and no touchdown passes. It was only the second time in his career he has failed to find the end zone through the air.
Renner has spread the ball around well with Erik Highsmith (35 receptions, 329 yards), Eric Ebron (26, 399), Quinshad Davis (21, 285) and Sean Tapley (14, 281) all averaging at least 40 yards per game while collecting 14 of Renner's touchdown passes.
The Tar Heels have also had a great deal of success running the ball thanks to the recent efforts of Giovani Bernard. Bernard is the feature back and has rushed for an ACC-leading 652 yards to go along with seven touchdowns. Bernard is also the only ACC rusher to average more than 100 yards per game (130.4). When Bernard needs to be spelled, A.J. Blue (328 yards, 6 TDs) and Romar Morris (312 yards, TD) have been capable alternatives.
Defense has also been a factor in North Carolina's success. The Tar Heels are allowing only 17.3 points per game, which is the second best mark in the ACC. The low scoring coincides with an ability to keep teams from putting together large yardage totals, with the Tar Heels ranked third in total defense (327.0 ypg).
The defense has excelled in getting into the backfield and taking advantage of the mistakes that creates. North Carolina is the top team in both tackles for loss (57) and interceptions (10) in the conference.
Kareem Martin (10 tackles for loss), Kevin Reddick (41 tackles, 8.0 tackles for loss) and Sylvester Williams (8.0 tackles for loss, 5.0 sacks) have been the most punishing defenders. Gene Robinson leads the team with three interceptions.
The eighth-best offense in terms of total yards (402.4 ypg) has been plenty for Duke on its way to five wins. The Blue Devils have scored at a healthy 35.3 points-per-game clip and a solid 83.9 percent success rate in the red zone. The Blue Devils need to convert more of those chances into touchdowns though with a league-leading 10 field goals from the red zone.
Sean Renfree has been the starter at quarterback for most of the season, only missing a game versus Virginia with an elbow injury. Renfree has played well, completing 70.1 percent of his passes attempts for 1,517 yards and 10 touchdowns. He has been prone to turnovers though with six interceptions overall.
Renfree has two of the best wideouts in the ACC to throw to in Conner Vernon and Jamison Crowder. Vernon has pulled in 45 receptions for 625 yards and five touchdowns and is ranked third in the conference in yards per game (89.3). Vernon is coming off a season-low four receptions in the loss to Virginia Tech, but has recently become the ACC's all-time leader in receptions. Jamison Crowder stepped up in that spot last week, hauling in eight passes for 127 Crowder (46 receptions, 588 yards, four TDs) has been an integral part of the passing game all season.
It has been an average season for the Blue Devils' defense which ranks seventh in the ACC in both scoring (27.4 ppg) and total defense (394.0 ypg). Like North Carolina the unit has been good in jumping on opponents mistakes with eight interceptions, two of which have been returned for touchdowns. Duke is also tied for the ACC lead in sacks with 18 this season.
Defensive end Kenny Anunike has led the way with five sacks on the season, while Walt Canty's 62 total tackles is more than 20 more than any other player on the team. Ross Cockrell has been fantastic in the secondary, with 13 passes defended and four interceptions.
A glance at the records shows mirror images. However North Carolina is the more complete team with a strong offense and effective defense. The Blue Devils are clearly better than in past seasons but might be in for a wakeup call in the next few weeks.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: North Carolina 31, Duke 21
10/17 10:54:46 ET