Photo courtesy of wordcampraleigh.com
Offense: The Tar Heels have shown drastic improvement in this category as the season has progressed. With playmakers like running back T.J. Logan and receiver Bug Howard emerging in recent weeks, Carolina has a solid stable of options for the dual threat quarterback combo of senior Bryn Renner and sophomore Marquise Williams. And now that we’re talking about the signal callers, it has been a pleasure observing the seamless transition between the rotations. Renner has been nothing but class through the entire process. Trust me, no senior wants to split duties with his sophomore counterpart. But this sophomore Williams is a dynamic player that adds much needed wrinkles to Offensive Coordinator Blake Anderson’s offense. Will he take it and run? Will he sling it down the field? And boy, we haven’t even mentioned that man named Eric Ebron. He leads the team in receiving yards as a tight end. He’s electric. So, it appears the Tar Heel offense is clicking nicely heading into Raleigh Saturday.
The N.C. State Wolfpack remain somewhat of a mystery on this side of the ball. First of all, who will start at the quarterback position? Head Coach Dave Doeren says Brandon Mitchell, who just got back from injury, gives them the best chance at winning if he runs the offense properly. But that’s a BIG IF after the manner it which he was dismantled in Tallahassee last weekend against the stingy Florida State Seminoles. But let there be no mistake. The Wolfpack don’t make their hay through the air. They ride the feet of star running back Shadrach Thornton. Thornton is a furious north-south runner who is extremely difficult to bring down. Just ask the vaunted FSU defense. Thornton tallied up 173 yards on the Seminoles. Carolina is probably shaking in their boots…
Defense: The Tar Heels have suddenly figured out how to tackle. One-on-one tackling seemed an impossible task for the hapless Heels in the first three or four games of the season, but now is a different story. And a lot of this improvement has to go to Coach Vic Koenning’s relentless drive in practice. He says the Tar Heels have been simplifying everything and focusing all their energies on playing with passion and taking down the man in front of them. It appears to be paying off. The Carolina defense held BostonCollege to a mere 10 points last weekend in Chapel Hill. If you had to pick out one special player for UNC on defense, you would have to go with senior defensive end Kareem Martin. This guy has stepped up tremendously the past couple games. Zero Dark Thursday didn’t turn the lights out on Martin. It’s as if the light bulb went off and boom! Here he is. He’s been causing havoc in the back field ever since and raising the level of the entire defense with him. Martin is a leader to many of the under-classmen on the Tar Heel roster. If they continue to make one-on-one tackles and play with the heart they’ve displayed the past couple contests, a ‘W’ may come a lot easier for Carolina on Saturday.
As for the Wolfpack, their defense had been rather solid until Jameis Winston and FloridaState chewed through them last time out. But let’s be honest. That remains an outlier. Most every team is being embarrassed by the Seminoles this season. The NC State defense features some big boys that will be a handful for the youthful Carolina offensive line. The battle of the trenches will be huge. In addition to being able to apply pressure to opposing quarterbacks, NC State had come up with eight interceptions this year. So an active secondary is set to greet the Tar Heels in Cartwer-Finley. Errant throws will greedily be devoured by the NCSU defenders.
Intangibles: This is a tough call. Both teams have reason to claim the edge in this category. Carolina believes they are on the sharp upswing. The players are talking confidently off the field. The entire team seems unite under the banner of running the table the rest of the way. And the really scary part? They just may. In addition, Head Coach Larry Fedora and the rest of his coaching staff have circled this game on the calendar each season since the man from Southern Mississippi stepped foot in Chapel Hill a year and a half ago. And they got the job done last year with a little help from Gio. But the bottom line: NC State may have been looked over by the Tar Heels in the past, but no longer. Coach Fedora simply won’t allow it.
On the other hand, NC State is the home team. And that’s a big boost. The stadium will be packed and rowdy. What’s more, Carolina hasn’t won a game in Raleigh since 2005. History is on the Wolfpack side. And it has to be said. This is NC State’s Super Bowl. It means everything to them. They will be absolutely ravenous for a win. Can the Tar Heels match their intensity?
EDGE: NC State
QUICK PICK: Tar Heels 34, Wolfpack 24