Breakin’ It Down: Duke
Offense: Simply put, the Tar Heel offensive engine is humming right now. And a lot of that has to do with a rising youth movement that only gained momentum with a pair of Ryan Switzer punt returns last Saturday in Carolina’s 80-20 victory at Chapel Hill. Switzer is joined by fellow youngsters in tailbacks T.J. Logan and Khris Francis, as well as nifty receiver Bug Howard. With their rise, Carolina has an excellent stable of viable options for sophomore quarterback Marquise Williams to pick from. Williams has made a seamless transition into the starting role. He adds a dual threat to Offensive Coordinator Blake Anderson’s attack. Not to mention, he is seemingly a perfect fit for the Fedora-style warp-speed philosophy. Through the air, UNC is averaging 292 yards per outing, 23rd best in the country. All-American candidate Eric Ebron is on everyone’s watch list. He is an extraordinary playmaker for the Tar Heels that will be coming to an NFL stadium near you in the near future. Even the offensive line is showing some timely improvement as they have handled some physical defensive fronts in recent weeks. All in all, it appears UNC’s offense is surging as the season winds to a close.
The Blue Devils are led by a dual threat combo at quarterback. Anthony Boone is a dynamic player who can move the chains for Duke. The playmaking wide receiver Jamison Crowder has 1077 yards and 5 touchdowns on the season. He’s always a factor down the field. And with a senior laden offensive line, Duke may have a chance to hold off the Tar Heel rush.
EDGE: DEAD EVEN
Defense: The Tar Heels have seemingly found the formula for success on this end of the field. And a lot of this improvement has to be credited to Coach Vic’s relentless drive in practice and ability to adapt as the season progressed. He sensed his guys were struggling with all the schemes. So what did he do? He simplified. Now senior defensive end Kareem Martin says the Tar Heels have been freed up to really let loose and focus on playing with high energy and lots of passion. It seems to be working. The defense is playing faster and avoiding the dreaded ‘paralysis by analysis.’ Last week, the Tar Heels completely overwhelmed the ODU offense throughout the contest. With Norkeithus Otis and Kareem Martin continuing to create havoc in opposing backfields, the Duke passing attack may be forced into some less than desirable throws. And the hungry members of the secondary like Tre Boston and Dominique Green will be hungry to scarf up some interceptions.
The Duke defense is a weak point no longer. Duke Head Coach David Cutcliffe has a disciplined unit that keeps the ball in front of them and makes solid tackles, but it remains to be seen whether his defense can withstand the Carolina offensive weaponry. We will see soon enough. But here’s betting we could see some mismatches out there in Kenan Stadium on Saturday in this category.
Intangibles: This category is interesting. Duke has won seven straight and is coming off the heels of back-to-back comeback wins against Miami and Wake Forest. The team believes they will come out with more points on the scoreboard no matter what situation they find themselves in. And they seemingly have more to play for, right? A trip to the ACC Championship is on the line. So edge goes to the Blue Devils, correct?
No way. Carolina is riding a wave of momentum with five straight victories. It’s senior day. It’s Eric Ebron’s last home game as a Tar Heel after announcing he will forgo his senior season to enter the NFL Draft. I don’t think these veteran Tar Heels will forget the upset loss they took at Duke a year ago, either. Kenan Stadium will be slammed. It’s a sell out. Senior Day + Home Game + Extra Motivation = Carolina Edge.
Grab your popcorn. This one will be entertaining. It will be emotional for both sides. Big plays will be aplenty. The key will be this: Can the Duke secondary hang with the plethora of Carolina receivers for four quarters. Limiting the big plays and forcing the Tar Heels to grind out long drives will be crucial for the Blue Devils’ chances. But if you ask me, I think the Tar Heel offensive explosions continue and Carolina will hang on to reclaim the Victory Bell.
QUICK PICK: Tar Heels 38, Duke 31