Alex Conway & John Gwaltney Jr
In many ways, this week's game between UNC and N.C. State represents
a big culture change for one or the other program.
UNC is nearing the completion of year number two under Larry
Fedora while Dave Doeren's Wolfpack squad is past the
halfway point of his maiden voyage in Raleigh.
Both coaches are working with players who weren't entirely recruited
by them and implementing systems that can take a few years to take root.
Fedora and Doeren are also attempting to do more than just overhaul
the rosters---their also trying to change the cultures at their
Fedora has talked about creating a game day atmosphere that Tar Heel
fans can hold up against other big-time college programs as proof that
they aren't the "wine and cheese" crowd of yesteryear. Doeren is trying
to beef up the overall talent level of his squad by building up the
statewide brand of his program in a way that former coach Tom
O'Brien never could.
Victories in games like this go a long way in building up the
goodwill amongst fans and players alike and its importance is never
misunderstood by a coach in the know about how much the game means to
the dueling fan bases.
The two teams couldn't be coming into this game with a more varying
set of circumstances from their previous games.
UNC is coming off a blowout victory over Boston College while N.C.
State is coming off a performance that will be shown over and over again
on Jameis Winston's (possible) Heisman highlight tape.
However, records and previous performances rarely have any real
meaning in these games. In fact, judging by last year's performance, the
first half of a game doesn't even matter all that much.
Having said all that, both teams have something to prove based on
past performances against one another. N.C. State would like to replace
that image of Gio Bernard racing by their punt return team with
an image of equal if not greater epic-ness from one of their guys and
UNC would like to rid themselves of a three-game losing streak in
Fedora has talked about having a "1-0" mindset heading into every
week as they try to claw their way into a decent bowl game. Supposedly
this game doesn't have any added meaning but Fedora might have
contradicted his words a tad bit during his weekly radio show Tuesday
"I think it's going to be a blast. I really do. I think that's what
makes college football so great. Your regional rivalries that you have,"
said Fedora. "The bragging rights, the animosity amongst the fans, all
the things that take place. I think that's the fun part about it"
That sounds like a coach that knows a victory over N.C. State would
make a disappointing season a little easier to stomach if UNC can't
reach all their preseason benchmarks.
This has been a common theme for the Tar Heels as they continue to
employ their two-quarterback system. The marriage between Bryn
Renner and Marquise Williams has been quite healthy as it
seems to have sparked the Tar Heel offense and mad them more dynamic and
difficult to prepare for.
A lot of the credit has to be given to Renner for not allowing a
potentially difficult proposition---sitting in favor of his eventual
successor---get in the way of his ultimate goal: winning ball games.
"I think it's been great for both of us. The offense has kind of been
sparked here in the last two games but me and Marquise, we do a great
job during the week of getting those reps and seeing different things,"
said Renner. "When I'm on the sidelines I can help him and he does vice
versa for me. It's really helped us in the last two weeks."
N.C. State has had to use two quarterbacks this season but not out of
choice. They've had injuries that have hampered the progress Doeren
likely would have expected out of his newly installed offense.
It appears Brandon Mitchell will start over Pete
Thomas but expect both guys to see action throughout the game.
Neither guy poses the rushing threat that Doeren's previous quarterback
N.C. State at a glance
Colors: Red & White
Carter-Finley Stadium (57,583)
Surface: Natural Grass
Record: 7-6 (4-4) Head
Coach: Dave Doeren
(3-4 at NCSU, 26-8 overall) Last Game: Lost 49-17 at #2 Florida State on
October 26 in Tallahassee Official Site |
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Jordan Lynch did at Northern Illinois and neither has the
physical build or reputation to take the beating Lynch did and stand to
tell about it.
The Breakout Game
The way Fedora and some of the veteran players have been talking
recently would lead Tar Heel fans to believe that the next generation of
UNC football players are ready to make their mark on this North Carolina
Ryan Switzer has been a constant threat on special teams,
Jonathan Howard has given whichever quarterback is in the game
a nice, big target to throw to and T.J. Logan has breathed some
life into UNC's stagnant running game.
That's three freshmen that really had an impact on the offense. Three
touchdowns between them. Now we've got to get T.J. in the endzone," said
Those guys, along with Jon Heck, Caleb Peterson and
Landon Turner on the offensive line, have definitely
experienced growing pains this season while showing flashes of what can
happen in the future.
A game against an arch-rival, on the road, during a season that has
been less than pleasant for Tar Heel fans, can go a long ways toward
securing an endearing legacy in Tar Heel lore.
It's hard to expect that last point hasn't been brought up by Fedora
throughout practice this week, not just in talking with the freshman,
but also with guys like Renner, Kareem Martin, Tim
Jackson and A.J. Blue. All those senior leaders have
endured more than most college athletes since they arrived in Chapel
Hill and they have all expressed in recent weeks that they are aware
their collegiate careers are coming to a close.
This game, short of a bowl victory, might be the most lasting memory
these guys craft out during their senior seasons.