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North Carolina Tar Heels vs. Duke Blue Devils Preview and Prediction

Elijah Hood

Elijah Hood

Now that was the North Carolina offense we were expecting to see all year. Okay, so the 438 yards per game that the Tar Heels had averaged before last Saturday was hardly awful. It’s just that with so many players returning from last year’s top-20 unit, the output had been a bit disappointing.

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But against Georgia Tech it all came together. The sluggish running game came to life and quarterback Mitch Trubisky was his usual, efficient self. The result was 636 yards, numerous big plays and a 48-20 win.

On a short week the Heels will make the short drive over to Durham to take on a Duke squad that has lost three in a row and is 3-6 following a home loss to Virginia Tech. But don’t expect UNC to take the Blue Devils lightly. This is still Carolina-Duke.

North Carolina at Duke

Kickoff: Thursday, Nov. 10 at 7:30 p.m. ET

TV Channel: ESPN

Spread: North Carolina -11

Three Things to Watch

1. Elijah Hood

The junior from Charlotte got off to a slow start this year and his early lack of production was a big reason why UNC’s offense wasn’t as electric as most thought it would be. But Hood is back. The 6-foot, 220-pounder followed up a 100-yard performance versus Virginia by going for 168 yards and three touchdowns on just 12 carries against Georgia Tech. Duke is allowing 177 rushing yards per game and surrendered 207 to Virginia Tech, so Hood should be a focal point of the UNC offense again this week.

2. The Duke Offensive Line vs. North Carolina Defensive Front

Despite its struggles against the run over the past two seasons, North Carolina's defense has some exciting players in the front seven. Sophomore linebackers Andre Smith and Corey Holcomb are very active and defensive tackle Nazair Jones has had a very good junior season. For the Blue Devils on offense, creating running lanes for Shaun Wilson and Joseph Ajeigbe in order ease the pressure on freshman quarterback Daniel Jones is imperative. Also, the Duke line has surrendered 21 sacks on the year, which is part of the reason why Jones has thrown nine interceptions.

3. Turnovers

It is true that Jones puts the ball up for grabs at times. But Carolina’s secondary is not adept at actually grabbing it when it's there for the taking. In what is one of the most amazing stats of the year, North Carolina is the only FBS program without an interception on the season. Despite that issue, UNC is only minus-one in turnover margin thanks to nine forced fumbles, and putting the ball on the ground has been a problem for the Blue Devils.

Final Analysis

You have to give head coach David Cutcliffe and his Duke Blue Devils credit. They are 3-6 but they continue to battle. They hung with Lamar Jackson and Louisville until a late roughing the kicker penalty put it away for the Cardinals. The past two weeks they lost by three points to both Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech. Because of their fight, it’s hard to see Duke laying down against its bitter rival. But North Carolina will continue to feature Elijah Hood in the running game and the Tar Heels' receiving corps will be too much for the Blue Devils to handle.

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Prediction: North Carolina 28, Duke 20

— 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.