It’s that special time of year again, when caravans of carpooling pep band members invade rival campuses and “free expression” tunnels get freshly coated in sky blue. Yes, it’s rivalry week in the Triangle, as the Wolfpack play host to the Tar Heels this Saturday at Carter-Finley. Despite holding just one ACC win between them, each team understands that this is a game with heavy implications.
Though there are no national rankings or conference championship hopes on the line Saturday, there will be plenty of emotion, as Larry Fedora’s coaching staff has placed an increased emphasis on “winning the state.” Since day one of his tenure here in Chapel Hill, L-Fed has stressed the importance of “locking down the borders” of NC and securing the cream of the recruiting crop.
The best way to do this? By asserting your in-state dominance, of course.
This is a far cry from the strategy of former Coach Butch Davis, who seemed to place a much greater emphasis on putting up W’s against the likes of Miami and Virginia Tech. The NC State game never truly got front billing in the Davis Era, which might explain why (despite fielding superior talent) Butch never could quite seal the deal versus the wolfies.
Fedora managed to do in his first year what Butch never could: beat the Pack. How did he do this? One could argue that a guy wearing #26 had a lot to do with it, but the biggest factor in finally turning the tide was that of motivation. The kind of hatred for all things Carolina blue that’s cultivated over in Raleigh ensures that the Tar Heels always get State’s best shot, and the tactics employed by Fedora and company aim at reciprocation.
In smattering the UNC locker room with red streamers and “Our State” signs for the second straight year, the Tar Heel coaches did more than give the Kenan Football Center janitor a full afternoon: they made a statement. It’s the same statement that can be heard after every game when the team sings the Carolina fight song and ends it with “Go to Hell, State!” (this command having previously been reserved for another institution in Durham).
It’s the message that, yes, the Wolfpack are our rivals, and they are going to get 100% of our focus.
As if tensions weren’t high enough leading into Saturday, Carolina TE Eric Ebron made sure to stoke the flames during his post-Boston College interviews. Claiming, “Ain’t nobody worried about N.C. State. Ain’t nobody care about N.C. State,” and later taking to Twitter with similar comments, Ebron just about single-handedly overloaded the Pack Pride message boards.
Some may think this is just another college athlete running off at the mouth, but it also might be just what this football team needs. Every rivalry needs a heat check once in a while, and a little smack talk never hurt anyone, so who’s to fault Big E for throwing down the gauntlet? He likes his team’s chances, and so do I.
Coming off their best performance of the season against Boston College and looking to start a winning streak, the Heels could stand to get a little swagger back. Rivalry week gives them the perfect opportunity to do just that. The motivation is there, so I fully expect to see Ebron back up his tweet: #BeatState #BADLY.