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October 30, 2013Even though the matchup between North Carolina and N.C. State might not be as significant as past years due to the teams' combined 1-7 record in Atlantic Coast Conference play so far this fall, there isn't any doubt that this is still a meaningful game for both teams coming into Saturday afternoon.
The Wolfpack are still searching for their first win in ACC play after going 3-0 in their non-conference schedule, while the Tar Heels are looking to put together back to back wins for the first time this season and push their record to 3-5 on the season as they look to make a late-season bowl push.
The Wolfpack, of course, would like nothing more than to get back on a winning track with a much-needed triumph over the despised Tar Heels and erase the heartbreaking loss they had to suffer last year with one of the greatest and most exciting plays in UNC football history---Gio Bernard's punt return for a touchdown in the final minute.
North Carolina, on the other hand, wants to keep intact its unbeaten record under Larry Fedora against the Wolfpack and erase the embarrassing loss they suffered two years ago at Carter Finley, where the Tar Heels were shut out 13-0 for the first NCSU shutout in the series in over 50 years.
Tar Heel Illustrated goes in depth this week on the Wolfpack and Tar Heels with a 'tale of the tape' of Saturday's matchup from a statistical standpoint.
Though Pete Thomas is the leading passer for the Wolfpack, Brandon Mitchell, a transfer from Arkansas, will get the start against the Tar Heels more than likely after returning from an injury.
Last week was the first time Mitchell started since the opener against Louisiana Tech, as he went 17 of 33 for 128 yards and two interceptions, though the Wolfpack were blown out 49-17 in Tallahassee against Florida State.
With limited personnel---almost all holdovers from the Tom O'Brien era---NCSU head coach Dave Doeren hasn't quite got what he has wanted out of his team so far this season.
Much like at UNC with Larry Fedora these past couple of seasons, it's been a struggle at times over in Raleigh implementing a new offense around players who were recruited for another offensive scheme by other coaches.
The quarterback position has been an issue with State all season so far.
Four different NCSU QBs have thrown at least five passes in a game this fall, and though the quartet has combined to complete a respectable 60.2 percent of its pass attempts (147 out of 244), they've only thrown four touchdown passes between them against 10 interceptions.
The NCSU run game has been able to produce though, averaging 4.15 yards per carry on the season, which is way better than UNC's ACC-worst 2.8 yards per carry average.
What is more, NCSU's rushing per-game average of 180.1 yards (ranking them fifth currently in the ACC) dwarfs UNC's 102.1 yards, which ranks 13th in the ACC right now.
North Carolina will want to take the crowd out early at Carter Finley, as there is no doubt the Wolfpack faithful will be rowdy and hungry against their rival.
This is Homecoming weekend at NCSU, and in a similar situation as UNC in that they're not in a Divisional championship race anymore and are just looking to play their way into a decent bowl game, there's little doubt the Wolfpack nation is going to pour their hearts and souls into this one.
In so many ways, this game is the season for both teams.
If UNC loses, there's no hope of finishing out the regular season with a winning record, and they'll find themselves dropping down the postseason bowl rung even if they did manage to win out.
Plus, a loss to the Wolfpack ends the so-called 'margin of error' for the Tar Heels in that with six losses, they couldn't lose any of their remaining four games against Virginia, Pittsburgh, Old Dominion, and Duke in order to be bowl-eligible come December.
A loss for the Wolfpack against UNC drops them to 3-5 and 0-5 in the ACC, and needing to win out at Duke, at Boston College, and then back home against ECU and Maryland to have any hope of a winning record.
The Tar Heels hope to have a similar type of performance as last week against Boston College, forcing the Wolfpack to pass the ball and getting them in to long yardage situations so they can apply pressure on whoever is taking snaps at any given point for NCSU.
Bryn Renner had one of his worst games as a Tar Heel at Carter Finley two years ago, going 9 of 17 for 76 yards and two interceptions before eventually being knocked out of the game in the third quarter.
The Tar Heels had only 165 total offensive yards and a miserable 3 rushing yards in that particular contest---the only time former offensive coordinator John Shoop was shut out in his five seasons at UNC.
It will be very interesting to see how the Wolfpack will handle the quarterback rotation that Fedora has put in this year with Renner and Marquise Williams, as that could certainly provide help in the run game that the Tar Heels need Saturday afternoon to sustain drives and keep the offense on the field.
Who will rise up to the occasion is the question.
Will the Wolfpack defense come alive again in Carter Finley, as they've been known to do when the Tar Heels are in town, while the offense is able to produce points that they couldn't muster in prior ACC home games this fall against Clemson and Syracuse?
Will there be another outstanding defensive performance for the Tar Heels like the one against Boston College, where they allowed only 59 passing yards to the Eagles, or will they revert back to that lost group of defenders who gave up 55 points and much of their pride to East Carolina?
Most of all, can UNC can push their record to 2-0 under Fedora against the Wolfpack, or will Doeren, in his first opportunity to make his mark on this decades-old rivarly, seize the day and give his fanbase something to hang its hat on through the winter as they deal with the growing pains of rebuilding under a new regime.
And for the fanbases, there's obviously the bragging rights, which seem almost magnified in a season where both teams are struggling and in need of something to generate excitement around their respective programs.
While the rivalry exists in spirit year-round, the annual renewal of the UNC-NCSU gridiron tussle pits co-worker against co-worker, friend against friend, sibling against sibling, and even parent against child in some instances.
And while the rest of the college football world may not give much of a hoot about this one, it will certainly capture the attention of an entire state for three hours Saturday afternoon.