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by Sharon Thorsland

Georgia Tech v North Carolina

It’s rivalry week for North Carolina, with the 9-2 Tar Heels welcoming NC State to Kenan Stadium for a Black Friday showdown. The Heels are coming off a horrendous loss to Georgia Tech that took them completely out of the playoff equation. But they’re still in the ACC title game, headed to a bowl game, and a 10-win regular season is still in play. And who better to achieve that against but their cross town rival? Over in Raleigh, meanwhile, the Wolfpack (7-4) is reeling after dropping back to back games to Boston College and Louisville. Kick-off is set for 3:30 on WBT.

State entered the year with championship expectations and things haven’t exactly gone as planned. Starting quarterback Devin Leary was lost to a season ending pectoral injury in early October, and without him the Wolfpack has struggled to score. They rank 103 in the nation in total offense, and managed just 30 combined points against BC and Louisville. UNC is preparing to face multiple quarterbacks – freshman M.J. Morris is the expected starter but he’s dealing with an injury and might not play, so senior Jack Chambers or red shirt freshman Ben Finley could be under center. With the uncertainty at quarterback State will no doubt look to run the ball, especially since UNC has one of the worst run defenses in the country. The Wolfpack ground game is averaging 127 yards per game led by Jordan Houston, who has 500 yards on the season. Demie Sumo-Karngbaye is averaging 5.5 yards per carry and has three touchdowns plus another through the air. The Woflpack’s top receivers are Thayer Thomas and Keyon Lesane, they’ve combined for 871 yards and six touchdowns.

Defensively NC State is pretty darn good, they’re only allowing 18.7 points per game. They’ve got fast, physical linebackers in Drake Thomas, Isaiah Moore and Payton Wilson. Drake leads the team in tackles and has 5.5 sacks. Cornerback Ayden White has four of State’s 16 interceptions. Slowing down UNC’s potent offense won’t be easy though – the Tar Heels rank 13th in the nation averaging over 35 points per game, led by Heisman hopeful quarterback Drake Maye. The redshirt freshman has thrown for over 3600 yards and 34 touchdowns with just four interceptions and is also UNC’s leading rusher.

On paper it seems like UNC should win. But rivalries rarely follow a script and records go out the window in this game. State has plenty of motivation coming into this one – they’d love nothing more than to crash UNC’s party as the Heels head into the ACC Championship game, and keep the them from reaching 10 wins at their expense. UNC, meanwhile, is looking to bounce back from the disappointing loss to Georgia Tech and get some positive momentum headed into the title game. They would also like to avenge last season’s loss to the Wolfpack, when State scored two touchdowns in the final 2:12 of the game to win it. This game might not mean anything in the grand scheme of things but it means plenty to both of these teams – I still think UNC gets it done. Go Tar Heels