Posted: 7:00 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 2, 2013
By Brian Barbour
North Carolina at NC State, 12:30 PM, ACC Network
This is fairly basic.
No one knows what to make of this game. That includes Las Vegas where the line started at UNC -3 and has since jumped to -6. That's what happens when to below average teams get together. Because both teams struggle across the board, it is a question of which one will actually find a way to do enough right to win. Neither team has much of a clear cut advantage meaning this game could come down to a series of random plays and whichever team doesn't take care of the football.
That being said, UNC does head into this game coming off one of its better defensive efforts of the season against Boston College. The win was highlighted by Kareem Martin dominating up front which allowed the secondary to cover the pass more effectively. The issue the Tar Heels face this week is NC State QB Brandon Mitchell is a relative unknown. He has only played about a game and a half at this point due to injury. The "game" part was last week versus Florida State which was not the best match-up to get a read on Mitchell's game. That leaves the Tar Heel coaching staff with very little game film to work off of in preparation for this game. Mitchell is mobile and can do some things that will give the Tar Heel defense trouble, especially if the secondary isn't playing well.
On the other side of the ball, the dual quarterback system worked well against Boston College, especially since Marquise Williams ended up being the team's leading rusher. If the stable of tailbacks aren't going to get it done on the ground, Williams is better than nothing. T.J. Logan is still due a breakout game of some sort though that might be hoping too much given how poorly the offensive line has played. Bryn Renner completed his first ten passes on Saturday and only had four incompletions 23 attempts versus the Eagles. That follows his effort against Miami where he completed 15 passes in a row at one point. If Renner can continue with that kind of consistency but refrain from mistakes like giving up ill-time sacks, the offense could conceivably get moving.
Since Eric Ebron was talking up the rivalry earlier this week, the focus will be on him to see if he plays up to the hype. Ebron has been hot and cold this season but if there was a time the Heels could use another big performance from him, this would be that time. Ebron has as many touchdown catches as Bug Howard through seven games and well short of Larry Fedora's goal of twelve touchdowns. That isn't all on Ebron but if he were to make significant progress towards attaining that goal, it would certainly help the cause. The bottom line is Ebron is a match-up issue for any team UNC has faced this season. It will be no different here, the question is whether the Tar Heel offensive brain trust can take advantage of it.
For both teams a win carries with it bragging rights and leaves the door open for a bowl bid. A loss here puts the two programs on the bowl eligibility death watch and would force the loser to win out on their remaining games to see the postseason. While going to the bowl is a fairly futile trip, the extra practice time is not since it is a time when the younger players can get some extra reps.
After losing five straight, UNC broke through in Larry Fedora's first season to get a win. Getting a second win would be a nice push to get the pendulum swinging back in the other direction.