When: Thursday, November 20, 2014. 7:30 pm
Where: Wallace Wade Stadium, Durham, North Carolina
Line: Duke -6
All Time Series: North Carolina leads 13-8
Last Time: (24) Duke 27, North Carolina 25. The Blue Devils clinched their first Coastal Division Title with a win in Chapel Hill last season. A Ross Martin field goal with just over 2 minutes remaining gave Duke the lead and a DeVon Edwards interception in the final minute sealed the Duke victory. Anthony Boone completed 23 of 34 passes for 274 yards and threw 2 touchdowns to Jamison Crowder. DeVon Edwards returned his third kickoff for a touchdown on the season. The Blue Devils finished off the regular season 10-2 for the first time in program history and advanced to their first ever ACC Championship Game.
What to Watch For:
1. How Does the Offense Rebound?: If there was ever an opportunity for the Duke offense to bounce back from a poor showing its this one. North Carolina has, statistically, one of the worst defenses in college football. UNC gives up an average of 42.6 points per game and an average of 530 yards per game. They have given up big plays through the air and on the ground. Duke should start this game like they did against Virginia Tech, running the ball. The UNC defensive line has struggled all season at slowing down opposing teams rushing attacks. The combination of the offensive line and the stable of running backs should allow Duke to pound away at the UNC defensive front all night. The emphasis on the running game should also open things up for Anthony Boone, who is looking to bounce back from his two interception performance against the Hokies. While the North Carolina defense has been exceptionally porous this season, they have been able enough at forcing turnovers. Whether its a product of the number of times this defense has been attacked or actual playmaking ability is up for debate, but it will be very important for Boone and Co. to take care of the football and not give the Tar Heels any extra possessions on offense. The UNC offense has carried the team this year. Ball control and mistake free football are crucial in keeping the North Carolina offense off the field as much as possible.
2. Big Test for Defense: Thursday night’s matchup may be the toughest matchup for the Duke defense yet this season. North Carolina comes in averaging almost 34 points per game and are led by dynamic quarterback Marquise Williams. The offense hasn’t been the most consistent and have a run game that, as a whole, has been really struggling this season. UNC has issues on the offensive line and has a couple of injured running backs. Williams is actually the leading rusher for the team, averaging 62 yards per game on the ground. Williams playmaking ability has lead the Tar Heels on a resurgence in the second half of a slow starting season. Williams has 18 passing touchdowns and 10 rushing touchdowns. He even has one receiving touchdown and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Fedora try and few trick plays against the Blue Devils to try and make up for North Carolina’s shortcomings. UNC has big play ability with receivers Mack Hollins, Ryan Switzer, and Quinshad Davis. Duke will have to find a good balance of QB pressure and tight defense in the secondary to keep the Tar Heel offense out of the end zone. Duke still has a top 10 scoring defense, allowing only 18.7 points per game. This will truly be a strength vs. strength matchup between the two teams. The defensive line should be able to handle the UNC offensive line and a talented Duke secondary will make things tough on Williams trying to get the ball downfield. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Duke uses a defender to spy on Williams for most of the game to do all they can to keep him in the pocket.
3. Staying Focused: The loss to Virginia Tech was a big letdown for Duke. The Blue Devils and fans were pumped after an 8-1 start and a 4-1 record in the ACC. Duke was in control of the division and slowly climbing the national rankings. As ugly as the loss to the Hokies was, all of the Blue Devils goals are still very much attainable. In 2013 Duke was in a similar position is which they had to win out to win the division, they will have to do it again this year. There is some truth in the thought that no game is bigger than any other, but Thursday’s game against North Carolina is the most important game of the season for the Blue Devils. If Duke can move past the loss quickly and defeat North Carolina and Wake Forest to close out the regular season, they will return to Charlotte to take on Florida State for the ACC Championship. The staff will probably spend a lot of the short week getting the team to focus on the little things, the things that cost Duke the game against Virginia Tech, and not playing tight as they strive for a repeat as division champions.