There is nothing new about a big-time matchup between Duke and North Carolina with so much on the line. It is, however, a bit new for such high stakes to be decided on the football field.
It is hard to imagine any bigger stakes for the Blue Devils than winning the ACC Coastal Division title outright and getting the opportunity to play Florida State in the ACC Championship game. Standing in their way is their most hated rivalry, a rivalry that had new life breathed into last year when Duke defeated the Tar Heels in the waning seconds of the game to secure a 6th victory and bowl eligibility.
The stakes are bigger this year and the challenge maybe even more so. North Carolina enters the game riding a five game winning streak. They are playing with a lot of momentum and their offense has been scoring points with ease. Duke, however, comes in playing just as well, having won seven straight games and riding the backs of a strong defense that has allowed only 34 points in the fourth quarter all season.
When these two team meet it is likely to be a contrast in styles, and while a lot of the prognosticators and the folks in Vegas are leaning toward the Tar Heels, there are reasons to more than like Duke’s chances.
Aside from their defense, the Blue Devil offense has been good. In fact, other than the passing game, which North Carolina ranks 24th nationally, Duke has been better. They have a better rushing game, a big change from years past when the Blue Devils could hardly muster 100 yards per game. Now they are closer to 200 yards per game good for 57th nationally.
In order for Duke to keep it’s seven game winning streak alive, they are going to have to depend heavily on their running game to keep the Tar Heels off the field. Josh Snead has come on strong lately and he and Juwan Thompson, as well as Shaquille Powell, will likely get the bulk of the carries.
North Carolina is going to try to use their uptempo offense led by quarterback Marquise Williams to move the ball up and down the field through the air. They will also look to target tightend Eric Ebron early and often. The Blue Devils are going to have to continue their strong defensive play to slow down the vaunted Tar Heel spread offense.
Ultimately, this game could come down to the final seconds yet again and ball security and special teams plays could be a factor. North Carolina boasts one of the more surprising returners in the ACC in Ryan Switzer, and Duke has shown just as much explosiveness in Jamison Crowder and DeVon Edwards. If any of those guys get the opportunity, it could end up being a difference in the ball game.
Duke-38 North Carolina-31
This is going to be a pure battle that I feel that the Blue Devils will ultimately win on the backs of another strong fourth quarter defensive performance and a strong rushing attack.
Duke has the experience, the belief and just as much momentum heading into this game and will play with a chip on their shoulder, seeing as they are the underdogs despite their better record 9-2 (5-2 ACC) and national ranking (No.24). If Duke can take care of the ball and control the clock they should retain the Victory Bell and punch their ticket to the ACC title game in Charlotte.