The newest chapter in the Tobacco Road rivalry will be written this Saturday in Chapel Hill when North Carolina hosts Duke. If you feel like it seems a little early for the battle of the blues, you’re right. This year’s matchup will be the earliest the two schools have met in series history. Despite the odd timing, this season’s contest will be competitive and intense as always.
The Duke Blue Devils have started the season strong, sitting at 3-0, including power 5 wins over Northwestern and Baylor, respectively. Duke quarterback Daniel Jones has impressed so far in 2017. The sophomore signal caller has already thrown for 702 passing yards and four touchdowns on the year. The Blue Devils have also found success in the run game, rushing for 302 yards last week against Baylor.
While Duke’s offense has been solid, their real strength has been on the defensive side of the ball. As of right now, the Blue Devils are 7th in the country in total defense. Head Coach David Cutcliffe’s team has dominated up front so far, already racking up 10 sacks on the year. However, Duke’s pass rush is not their only defensive strength. The Blue Devils currently lead the entire nation in run defense. If this stat holds true through Saturday’s contest, it will be a long day for North Carolina.
UNC had a rough start to the season, falling to both California and Louisville at home, but, they were able to secure a nice bounce back win last week at Old Dominion. If the Tar Heels want to hand their rival their first loss of the season, they will need to step up on both sides of the ball. Here are the 3 keys to the game for UNC.
Establish a balanced offense
Carolina’s offense has been decent but also inconsistent in 2017. Through 3 games, UNC has yet to find an offensive identity. Against Cal, Head Coach Larry Fedora’s offense was all over the the place, but it had its bright spots. Freshman running back, Michael Carter, ran for 94 yards on just 11 carries and freshman quarterback Chazz Surratt showed his potential in his first ever college football game, throwing for 161 yards and a touchdown.
After succeeding on the ground in week 1, however, the Tar Heels running game was nonexistent versus Louisville. Instead, the offense lived on big plays through the air, and, while it kept UNC in the game, it could not secure them a victory.
The closest thing UNC has had to a balanced offensive attack was against Old Dominion, with the Tar Heels throwing for 259 passing yards and rushing for 252 more. In order to reclaim the Victory Bell Saturday, Carolina will need to continue this trend.
Apply pressure on Daniel Jones
As mentioned earlier, Duke Quarterback Daniel Jones has had a great start to 2017. In order to slow Jones down, UNC will need to apply consistent pressure on the defensive line. Fortunately for Carolina, edge rusher Malik Carney has done an outstanding job. Carney currently ranks 3rd in the nation with 15 QB pressures on the year. Look for Carney and the rest of UNC’s line to have a big day, as Duke is coming off a game in which they allowed 5 sacks and 12 tackles for loss. Carolina will need to capitalize on this advantage.
Stick with one quarterback
We are now into the fourth week of the 2017 college football season, and UNC Head Coach Larry Fedora still has yet to officially name a starting quarterback. Both redshirt freshman, Chazz Surratt, and LSU graduate transfer, Brandon Harris, have taken snaps under center this season for the Tar Heels, with the former clearly outplaying the latter. While Harris had his moments during the Louisville game, Surratt has shown better pocket poise, playmaking ability, and accuracy.
Not only does having quarterbacks split time prevent either from getting into a rhythm with the offense, it gives the team no one to rally behind. A good team needs its quarterback to be a leader, and the signal caller cannot do so when he is splitting playing time. Last week against ODU Surratt seemed as though he had taken full control of the offense, as Harris only got snaps during junk time. Surratt needs to be the only quarterback on the field Saturday. Period.
Despite the Tar Heels early struggles and injury woes, I like Carolina at home over Duke, especially considering the Blue Devils stole one last year in Durham.
Final Score: UNC 35, Duke 30.
- Kickoff: 3:30 PM in Kenan Stadium
- Watch: ESPNU
- On Thursday, UNC announced that linebacker Andre Smith, offensive tackle William Sweet, and wide receiver Thomas Jackson will all miss the rest of the season due to injury.
- The link to Carolina’s full injury report can be found here.
For all your collegiate and professional apparel needs, check out 365 Gameday.