With the ACC Coastal Division wrapped up–and a spot in the conference title game against Clemson assured—the No. 14 UNC football team has already put together its best season since 1997.
It’s not over yet, though, as the Tar Heels close out the year in Raleigh against their most-hated football rivals, NC State–seeking revenge for the 35-7 loss they suffered at the hands of the Wolfpack in Chapel Hill last season.
Ten straight victories have head coach Larry Fedora’s Tar Heels sitting at 10-1 this year—with a perfect 7-0 mark against conference foes. Last week’s division-clinching win over Virginia Tech helped UNC reach the first of the goals Fedora has preached in team meetings all year.
For most teams it could be easy to be complacent in this situation. But the Wolfpack are the opponent this weekend—and well, that just means the Tar Heels have yet another opportunity to take care of another year-long goal.
“It’s been one of our goals to be state champs,” Fedora said at his weekly press conference on Monday. “Whether we played [NC State] early or late, it was still going to be the same way.
“This goal is equally important to us [as winning the Coastal],” he added. “I don’t worry about this team, a letdown, or ‘Are they gonna be motivated enough?’ That really hasn’t entered into my mind.”
To become state champs, the Tar Heels have already beaten Duke and Wake Forest, but will now have to defeat a 7-4 NC State team that is one of the few in the ACC with as much athleticism as UNC.
Not to mention the bragging rights the Wolfpack hold in this rivalry, winning six of the last eight meetings between the two schools—including the demoralizing victory a year ago.
“Cannot forget it,” senior linebacker Shakeel Rashad said in reference to that game. “Football’s an emotional game, and so obviously that’s been in the back of our minds—it’s a salty game—so that taste has been in the back of our mouths since the game ended last year.
“We have to remember what it felt like, the way we lost that game.”
After the win in 2014, Wolfpack head coach Dave Doeren took some subtle jabs at UNC, saying that his is a “blue-collar, hands-in-the-dirt” school.
The Tar Heel players and coaches chose not to address those words directly in the lead-up to the game this week, but senior quarterback Marquise Williams did speak about how the loss affected the team’s close to the season, including the 40-21 bowl loss to Rutgers.
“It was bad, you know, that feeling,” Williams said. “A rival team, that came here and stomped [us] on [our] own ground. It was tough for us–and we had to overcome it, and move on from it.”
“It seemed like we didn’t overcome [the loss to State] because then we went out and got stomped some more.”
The star of last year’s NC State team—dual-threat quarterback Jacoby Brissett—is back this year, and will provide Williams with a near mirror of himself whenever he’s watching from the sidelines. Not only that, the weapons around Brissett, like speedy tailbacks Jaylen Samuels and Nyheim Hines, will present the UNC defense with a stiff challenge all day long.
“These guys are not slaps,” Williams said about his opponents this weekend. “This is a good football team, and they’re a good football team that’s been competing, playing very well. They played Clemson very well, they played Florida State very well, and they’ve been doing great things.”
The Wolfpack lost a 56-41shootout when they played Clemson, the No. 1 team in the country, and fell 34-17 in Tallahassee against Florida State.
Now they’ll get one final chance at a marquee upset when they meet a Tar Heel team not only hell bent on revenge, but locked in on goals it’s never reached before—a message Fedora made clear about his squad.
“We’re not done,” Fedora said. “I won’t sit back and look back until it’s all over with. I told [the players] earlier in the week ‘We’ve come too far to only come this far.’
“We still have our blinders on, our heads down, and continue to be focused on the job at hand.”
The game will be broadcast live on WCHL’s radio airwaves, on 97.9 FM and 1360 AM. It will also be televised on ABC. Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m.
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The Tar Heels have been led by the gritty, determined play of junior signal caller Marquise Williams, who was named ACC Offensive Back of the Week for the fourth time this season Monday.
But according to Wolfpack defender Hakim Jones, Williams is a softy who “basically quits” when hit a few times.
UNC head coach Larry Fedora says he doesn’t think it’s wise to question his quarterback’s toughness.
“I wouldn’t question Marquise’s toughness. You have seen all of our games. You’ve seen how he gets hit and what he does. I haven’t looked at a game and thought he laid down for any reason,” Coach Fedora says.
If he got his way, Coach Fedora says he’d like Williams to go down to the ground a little quicker. But the Carolina skipper says that’s not even an option for the tough-natured Williams.
“I would like for him to go down more than he does, a whole lot more. But that’s not who he is. It’s not his makeup or in his DNA. He likes delivering blows,” Coach Fedora says.
There will certainly be plenty of heavy blows delivered Saturday afternoon in this rivalry matchup featuring two teams who don’t like each other.
Jones calling out Williams may be foolish, but it definitely throws more fuel on the fire of this intense rivalry that N.C. State head coach Dave Doeren says is fun to be a part of.
“It’s a great rivalry. The distance between the schools makes it special. They’re always heated and a lot of pageantry goes into them. I love everything about it. It’s a big challenge for our football team. Any time you’re in a game like this as a coach, it’s a pleasure,” Coach Doeren says.
Per usual, Coach Fedora turned the UNC locker room red last weekend. He says his interior decorating is partly motivational and partly just for fun.
“We like to have a good time. Whether that’s juvenile or not, the kids have fun with it. I don’t think it’s what motivates them to play the game. It’s kind of a joke, but they’ve had fun with it in the past,” Coach Fedora says.
The Wolfpack offense has found its feet this season in large part thanks to the play of Florida transfer quarterback Jacoby Brissett.
Coach Fedora says Brissett will make life difficult for the Tar Heel defense.
“That guy is really talented. He can beat you with his legs or beat you with his arms. He’s going to extend plays. He’s a special players, there’s no doubt,” Coach Fedora says.
The key to the game may come down to the running game. The team that has held the rushing advantage has won 19 of the last 22 meetings.
Luckily for the Tar Heels, running back T.J. Logan is running with ruthless intention at just the right time. His revitalization mimics the upward trajectory of the entire UNC team.
Senior linebacker Norkeithus Otis says his teammates have grown in confidence.
“We just keep working and believing in each other. We find ways to win games and keep fighting. A lot of the confidence has come up in all the guys,” Otis says.
The Tar Heels lead the all-time series with the Wolfpack, 65-32-6, and have never lost under the direction of Coach Fedora.http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/tar-heels-try-tame-wolfpack-home-finale
CHAPEL HILL– North Carolina State Head coach Dave Doeren says he understands the magnitude of the Wolfpack-Tar Heels game Saturday in Carter-Finley Stadium.
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But Coach Doeren says his 3-4 team has been plagued by injuries all year.
“Well, we’ve dealt with a lot of adversity from an injury standpoint this year. It’s created some tough situations. Some we’ve handled well, and some we haven’t. We sit here 3-4. Obviously, we aren’t satisfied with that record or happy with it. But I am happy with way our guys continue to work,” Coach Doeren says.
One of the most dangerous weapons in the Wolfpack’s arsenal is running back Shadrach Thornton. Last week against the vaunted Florida State defense, he totaled an impressive 173 yards. But what makes Thornton so tough to bring down?
“He just plays hard. You know, he’s a guy that runs with an attitude. He’s a finisher. He’s a north and south guy. He’s not a dancer. He’s a hard guy to bring down because of that. He gets his pads down and runs behind them,” Coach Doeren says.
Coach Doeren says he wants to put the Wolfpack in position for postseason play, but a lot of those plans will hinge on the outcome of Saturday’s 12:30 kickoff against the hated UNC Tar Heels. Emotions will sure to be riding high.
“That’s the challenge. You have to be able to execute regardless of how excited you are to play, you have to execute. We talk about it a lot, but when you cross the white line, it’s going to come down to them being able to do it. […] We look forward to that opportunity to just play within ourselves and play for each other and execute the plan,” Coach Doeren says.
The Tar Heels, on the other hand, will be hoping to throw a wrench in those plans and keep their own run at the postseason intact.
RALEIGH – North Carolina State is down to its final days of preparation for coach Dave Doeren’s first game with the Wolfpack. He’s eager to find out how his new players respond to game pressure.
Doeren said Monday the opener against Louisiana Tech will give the coaches a chance “to really see those pieces and how they interact.”
Doeren, who left Northern Illinois to replace Tom O’Brien, has spent the past month pushing the players to learn more of the offensive and defensive schemes installed during spring practices. But he said he won’t know for sure how much the players have processed or which guys will perform under pressure until Saturday.
Seven freshmen appear on the team’s depth chart, though the starting quarterback job remains open between Brandon Mitchell and Pete Thomas.http://chapelboro.com/sports/acc/doeren-eager-to-see-nc-state-face-game-pressure
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) – North Carolina State is only a few workouts into the training camp that will reshape the Wolfpack under new coach Dave Doeren.
That leaves N.C. State with less than a month to figure out who is the starting quarterback leading a no-huddle offense and adjust to the faster tempo that Doeren wants in everything his players do.
Doeren says his players have had “bright eyes” and “good energy” to start training camp.
Receiver Rashard Smith says working at the faster tempo during spring practices helped prepare the players for the expectations that await them in August workouts. N.C. State opens the season at home Aug. 31 against Louisiana Tech.
Doeren led Northern Illinois to a BCS bowl last season before replacing Tom O’Brien, who was fired after six seasons.