North Carolina faces Duke this Saturday in what could be the program’s most important game of the season so far. The Tar Heels will have to put last weekend’s six-overtime loss at Virginia Tech behind them very quickly. There is too much riding on the game against the Blue Devils to dwell on the heartbreak in Blacksburg. While these two rivals traditionally play for a famous trophy, that’s not the focus this week. For this year’s game, the Victory Bell isn’t all that’s on the line. The ACC Coastal Division, a bowl bid, and recruiting could all be influenced by what happens in Chapel Hill this weekend.
Victory Bell Isn’t All That’s On The Line
In the past couple of years, North Carolina was simply playing for pride against Duke. This year is different. While losing to Virginia Tech hurt the Tar Heels’ chance of winning the Coastal Division, they still have a shot. However, a loss to Duke would put North Carolina at 3-5 overall, and hopes for a division title would effectively end. A conference game against the Blue Devils would even the Tar Heels’ record at 4-4, with conference games against Virginia, Pitt, and NC State still ahead.
Even if North Carolina doesn’t win the Coastal, they certainly have a chance to receive a bowl bid. They’ll need six wins to have a chance. We can assume they’ll get number four at home against Mercer in November. The other match-ups will be much tougher, especially with Pitt and NC State being road games. The home game with Virginia might be even tougher than those that are on the road. For all of these reasons, beating Duke this Saturday is crucial.
North Carolina and Duke are both coming off disappointing trips to the state of Virginia. While the Tar Heels let one get away against the Hokies, Duke was blown out in Charlottesville. If both teams don’t come into this game motivated and angry, something is badly wrong.
Winning Fuels Recruiting
In August, we discussed predictions for North Carolina football. One of those predictions was that Desmond Evans, one of the nation’s top recruits, would commit to the Tar Heels during the football season. This past Friday, that came to pass, as Evans announced he would be headed to Chapel Hill next year. He will join a highly-ranked recruiting class that is full of four-star players.
The goal now is to add to that class, as well as to keep previously committed players from changing their minds. In today’s recruiting environment, verbal commitments amount to a player announcing he will probably play at a certain school. Recruiting isn’t finished until that player signs a national letter of intent. North Carolina found that out the hard way in September. A few hours after the Tar Heels lost to Appalachian State, three-star athlete Lamareon James took to Twitter, announcing he was re-opening his recruitment. In the world of college football, when it rains, it pours.
There is no doubt that North Carolina has made strides this year, both on and off the field. Head coach Mack Brown has brought enthusiasm back to the program, translating into sold-out games and high school players wanting to come to North Carolina. While Tar Heel Nation is disappointed over the Virginia Tech loss, a win against Duke reiterates the fact that this program is moving forward to brighter days. North Carolina hasn’t won the Victory Bell since 2015; the time to get it back is right now.
Scouting The Blue Devils
This Saturday’s game against Duke may end up being a barn burner. Both teams have weapons on offense; the Blue Devils displayed that when they demolished the same Virginia Tech team that just beat North Carolina.
Duke may be one of the most well-coached teams in college football. David Cutcliffe is one of the brighter offensive minds in the sport. He is a master of getting the most from his players; Cutcliffe has taken pretty good players and coached them into being really good. The same thing seems to be occurring this year.
Quarterback Quentin Harris is a dual-threat who can run when he needs to. This has to be concerning for North Carolina, after Virginia Tech quarterback Quincy Patterson ran all over the Tar Heels’ defense for 122 yards on Saturday. Duke will undoubtedly try to get Harris going on the ground, at least until the Tar Heels prove they can stop him. Running back Deon Jackson will get plenty of carries as well.
The Blue Devils are highly suspect on the defensive side of the ball. North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell has thrown nine touchdowns in his last two games, and there’s no reason to think he won’t air it out this Saturday. However, the Tar Heels will look to run the ball against Duke. Virginia rushed for five touchdowns against the Blue Devils, and North Carolina will look to get Michael Carter and Javonte Williams going early and often. During the last two games, North Carolina’s defense looked fatigued in the second half. Running the ball and controlling time of possession against Duke can be a remedy this by keeping the offense on the field.
This is not just a rivalry meeting for the Victory Bell; this is huge game for North Carolina. The rest of the season could depend on what happens in Kenan Stadium on Saturday. It’s do or die time, and this is one the Tar Heels can’t let get away.