The ACC’s biggest matchup of the week takes place in the Tar Heel State. The #23 North Carolina State Wolfpack heads to Chapel Hill to take on the #15 North Carolina Tar Heels. UNC leads the all-time series 59-36-4, but the Wolfpack have won four of the last six meetings. Despite the lopsided overall series record, UNC leads the series just 36-31 since the two teams joined the ACC in 1953.
Previewing North Carolina vs North Carolina State
Interestingly enough, this is just the third time that both teams have been ranked heading into the game. UNC has won both of those previous matchups, but the last time that happened was 1993. North Carolina will be looking to move to 4-1 and pick up their second straight win in the series. NC State will be trying to move to 5-1 and build momentum for their next game against Miami.
Turnovers will be a major key for the Wolfpack. North Carolina State lost the only game that they turned the ball over more than their opponent this year. In the other four games, they either equaled their opponents’ turnovers or had fewer.
Similarly to the offensive turnovers, the defense’s ability to take the ball away has been very important. Of their four victories, three have seen the Wolfpack take the ball away. The one loss also came after not earning a single turnover.
Obviously, turnovers are a major turning point for any team, but North Carolina State has been heavily influenced by their ability to keep possession or take it away from their opponents. Things have not been as extreme for the Tar Heels. Of their four matchups so far, UNC has been equal on turnovers twice, had more turnovers once, and had more takeaways once. The one time the Tar Heels turned the ball over more than their opponent was in their opener against Syracuse where they turned it over three times to the Orange’s zero. North Carolina still won 31-6.
Tar Heels Bounce Back
North Carolina has looked like a growing power in the ACC this season. That was until the Tar Heels stumbled in a big way last week against the Florida State Seminoles. Florida State has looked like one of the worst Power Five programs this season but came out with a strong start against North Carolina. At halftime, the Seminoles led 31-7.
The Tar Heels did shutout Florida State in the second half and put up 21 second-half points, but ultimately came up three points short. However, that 21-0 second half should give North Carolina some momentum heading into this rivalry matchup. If they can keep that rolling through this week of practice and into the game, the Tar Heels have to be seen as favorites for this matchup.
Sam Howell has been having a very solid season so far for North Carolina. He has had a passer efficiency rating higher than 140 in every game. His 164.2 overall passer efficiency rating is good for 15th in the nation. Howell is also completing nearly 65% of his passes and has a 9-to-4 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Howell has been the backbone of this North Carolina team so far this season.
On the other side, things are not as set in stone. This season has been a battle between sophomore Devin Leary and junior Bailey Hockman. Hockman started week one but quickly lost his starting spot to Leary. However, in the third quarter of Saturday’s game against Duke, Leary broke his fibula. The injury required surgery and Leary is expected to miss four to eight weeks with the injury.
This means Hockman will most likely be the guy this week. This season, in three appearances, Hockman has completed 58.7% of his passes for two touchdowns and three interceptions. Hockman is certainly not the guy that the Wolfpack wants to trot out there for this hugely important matchup, but aside from his second start where he threw two picks in just 16 attempts, the junior has not been horrible. He will be a passable signal-caller as long as the rest of the team plays their parts.
This should be a highly entertaining game. North Carolina is a fairly heavy favorite, but that does not mean this is not a game worth watching. Two rival teams having a rare ranked meeting is always worth having on one of your screens. The quarterback battle will be hugely important for both teams. If Hockman can keep the ball in his receiver’s hands, this one could go right down to the wire.