Game: North Carolina Tar Heels at N.C. State Wolfpack
Time: 7:00 p.m. ET
Odds: Tar Heels +6, Wolfpack -6
This end of the year in-state rivalry game might not be as popular as many of the others that will take place this weekend, but it is a game that has a lot of weight in the ACC. An N.C. State victory would put the Wolfpack in a position to win the Atlantic Division and play in the ACC championship game. Head coach Dave Doeren’s team needs a win tonight and a loss by Wake Forest to Boston College over the weekend to secure that spot.
The Wolfpack (8-3) have gotten to this point on the heels of their defense. They rank 16th in the nation in scoring defense allowing just 17.2 points per game. Only two opponents this season have scored more than 30 points on N.C. State. That’s quite the accomplishment in an ACC where offense rules. Just last week, the Wolfpack held Syracuse to 17 points in a 41-17 victory.
Holding down the Tar Heels offense can be quite challenging. North Carolina ranks 15th in the country in scoring offense averaging 33.9 points a game. Keeping the Tar Heels in check tonight might be a bit easier if starting QB Sam Howell does not play.
Howell missed UNC’s game against Wofford last week with an unspecified upper-body injury. It was the first time that Howell has missed a game in his college career. He is one of the nation’s best and could be one of the first quarterbacks taken in next year’s NFL draft. For the season, Howell has 2,704 yards passing and 22 touchdowns.
Regardless of whether Howell plays or not, North Carolina will need to establish the run. The Tar Heels have been consistently strong in the run game and this year is no exception. Ty Chandler is already over 1,000 yards (1,004) and Howell is the team’s No. 2 rusher with 717. The Tar Heels are No. 20 in the nation in rushing yards per game averaging 211.8.
Establishing the run against the Wolfpack could be a difficult task. N.C. State ranks 17th in the country against the run. The Wolfpack allows 108.3 yards per game on the ground. On the other end, North Carolina is one of the worst defenses in the country. If the Tar Heels were even a mediocre defense, they would be better than 6-5.
The Tar Heels defense ranks at or near the bottom of the ACC in almost every category. They are 98th in the nation in scoring defense allowing nearly 29 points per game. Before last week’s win over FCS Wofford and a 30-23 loss to Pitt, UNC gave up 55, 44, 42, and 35 in consecutive games.
N.C. State is 9-4 ATS in their last 13 games, but UNC is just 1-5 ATS in its last six. What’s interesting is that North Carolina has won five of the last six games against N.C. State. That includes last year’s 48-21 romp in which the Tar Heels rolled up 578 yards of offense. However, that was with Howell at quarterback.