It is most heated in basketball, but when Duke and North Carolina meet in any sport, it is all-out war. With both teams having a combined one ACC loss and the Coastal Division title within the reach, this week’s game carries extra importance.
But in what should be considered a major upset, many Duke supporters don’t have their sights fixed solely straight ahead. That’s because of the unfortunate, incredible, maddening way that Duke lost to Miami last Saturday night. The Blue Devils have every right to be angry after it took the officials over nine minutes to come up with the wrong verdict, giving the game to Miami.
Meanwhile, down the road in Chapel Hill, the Tar Heels were relaxing after their impressive victory at Pittsburgh last Thursday night. The win made UNC 7-1 on the season and propelled them to No. 21 in both the AP and Coaches polls.
Carolina holds a 57-37-4 edge in this hotly contested rivalry.
Duke at North Carolina
Kickoff: 12 p.m. ET (Saturday)
Spread: North Carolina -8
Three Things to Watch
1. Which Marquise Williams Plays?
Will we see the Marquise Williams that turned the ball over three times against South Carolina and was benched in the Delaware game? Or do we see the Marquise Williams that has run and passed the Heels to recent wins over Georgia Tech, Virginia, and Pittsburgh? Duke has the nation’s eighth-ranked pass defense, but Miami’s Malik Rosier, making his first start last Saturday, completed 20 of 29 passes for 272 yards and two touchdowns. Duke star safety Jeremy Cash and the Duke secondary will have to step up to contain Williams the runner while also watching Quinshad Davis, Ryan Switzer, and the rest of the Tar Heels' receivers.
2. On the Other Side, Thomas Sirk
Sirk and Williams have some similarities. Both are big, strong quarterbacks that can run and pass. Sirk has completed 60% of his passes this fall with an impressive 12-to-3 touchdown to interception ratio. He is also the Blue Devils' leading rusher with 481 yards. North Carolina is third in the country in pass defense but 105th in run defense. Sirk will try to throw to Max McCaffrey but there will be a lot of called quarterback runs too. Duke’s running back trio of Jela Duncan, Shaun Wilson, and Shaquille Powell will have to help out by grinding out tough yardage. But Sirk has become the main playmaker for the Duke offense and he is the guy the Tar Heels must watch.
3. Scoring Touchdowns
Both teams have done a decent job of getting points when they have gotten into the red zone. Oftentimes, though, both the Blue Devils and the Tar Heels get three points instead of six. North Carolina ranks No. 82 in red zone touchdown conversion rate and Duke checks in at No. 106. In a game like this that should be close to the end, getting touchdowns instead of field goals will be vital.
Duke got hosed by the officials last week. You know it, I know it, we all know it. Now it’s time to move on and with Carolina next up, Duke coach David Cutcliffe should have no trouble getting the troops fired up. Duke will face a rested and confident Carolina team, one that not only has a Coastal Division crown in sight, but also is beginning to believe that it can beat whoever comes out of the Atlantic, be it Clemson or Florida State. Duke’s defense will make things hard on UNC at times, but the Heels have too many weapons to be held down all day. North Carolina will win and put themselves in the Coastal catbird seat.
Prediction: North Carolina 27, Duke 17
— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.