by Mike Potter
All three local ACC teams have home games — N.C. Central is idle until next week’s MEAC opener at Howard — and all three are favored in non-conference action.
And it is fair to call all three of them “must” wins.
Then at 3 p.m. at Wallace Wade Stadium, Duke (2-2) will take on Troy (2-2) of the Sun Belt Conference in the teams’ first meeting.
And at 3:30 at Carter-Finley Stadium, N.C. State (2-1) will host Central Michigan (1-3) of the MAC.
UNC vs. East Carolina
The Tar Heels need a win to get some momentum going after last week’s 28-20 loss at Georgia Tech, and of course a win in Chapel Hill would make the Pirates’ season.
ECU’s only loss was a 15-10 decision to visiting Virginia Tech two weeks ago.
UNC, which leads the series 12-2-1, is a 12 ½-point favorite. The Tar Heels beat the Pirates 27-6 in Chapel Hill last season.
“When you play an in-state team, you've got guys on your team that played with guys on their team or played against guys on their team in high school, and so they have relationships,” UNC coach Larry Fedora said. “Anytime you have that scenario, it's going to be a little bit more intense. You're going to have guys that have history with each other. Then you've got the fans. You've got the fans on the eastern side of the state that are obviously the East Carolina fans, and they're sprinkled around, so there's a lot of bragging rights that come into play.”
Bryn Renner has completed 63 of 106 passes for 751 yards and four TDs with two interceptions for the Tar Heels. Romar Morris has carried 36 times for 169 yards and three TDs. Eric Ebron has caught 13 passes for 200 yards and a TD.
“Wins are big,” ECU coach Ruffin McNeill said. “I just want to get on the field again for our players. The last game we played, that was a tough locker room to address. I understand the in-state rivalry and I’m looking forward to the competition, but I’m looking forward to doing what we need to do to make sure we have success on Saturday.”
Shane Carden has completed 82 of 110 passes for 796 yards and eight TDs with three interceptions for the Pirates.
Vintavious Cooper has rushed 40 times for 161 yards and a TD and caught 12 passes for 115 yards, while Justin Hardy has 26 catches for 258 yards and a TD.
Duke vs. Troy
The Blue Devils are smarting from a back-to-back ACC losses at home including last week’s 58-55 shootout with Pitt.
“We focus on how we (held Pitt to 2.8 yards per play) on the 62 plays we did it,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said of his defense. “It’s not about what you do, it’s how you do it, and you have to do it well to know what to do. Sixty-two plays of that game, Pittsburgh averaged 2.8 yards a snap. Seventeen plays outside of that, they averaged 25 yards a snap, so that’s the difference in the defense playing extremely well. How do you prevent explosive plays? How do you keep the ball in front of you? How do you tackle better? How do you leverage the ball and set the edge? Those are the things we’re working on and obviously we need to continue to work better at them. You’re always working on them, but we didn’t execute those things 17 times (against Pitt).”
Brandon Connette has completed 55 of 89 passes with eight TDs and five interceptions for Duke, also rushing 44 times for 169 yards and four TDs. Jela Duncan has carried 39 times for 220 yards and two TDs, while Jamison Crowder has caught 30 passes for 381 yards and a TD.
Corey Robinson has completed 92 of 127 passes for 975 yards and eight TDs with four interceptions for Troy. Deon Anthony has carried 36 times for 211 yards and two TDs, while Eric Thomas has 17 catches for 274 yards and six TDs.
N.C. State vs. Central Michigan
The Wolfpack will look to complete a sweep of its three September non-conference opponents when the Chippewas come calling.
State, which won the teams’ only other meeting 38-24 in Raleigh two years ago, is listed as a 24-point favorite.
“Our kids will not take them lightly - I guarantee you that - because of Richmond,” State coach Dave Doeren said, recalling the 23-21 win over the Spiders on Sept. 7. “We've had injuries just like everybody this time of year. The Clemson game was a physical game. So our biggest challenge was overcoming the injuries we sustained in that game more than overlooking them, because I think our guys learned a tough lesson and got away with it against Richmond.”
Pete Thomas has completed 59 of 94 passes for 662 yards with four interceptions for the Wolfpack. Matt Dayes has carried 37 times for 143 yards the three TDs, while Marquez Valdes-Scantling has 14 catches for 201 yards.
Cooper Rush has completed 56 of 102 passes for 805 yards and five TDs with four interceptions for CMU. Saylor Lavalli has 73 carries for 354 yards and three TDs, while Titus Davis has 21 catches for 404 yards and three TDs.
Last week’s three stars
1. Jamison Crowder, WR, Duke. Crowder earned ACC specialist of the week for a second time. He scored touchdowns on a punt return, a reception and a scrimmage run and finished with 279 all-purpose yards in the loss to Pitt.
2. Tazmon Foster, LB, NCCU. Foster earned MEAC defensive player of the week honors, amassing 17 tackles and forcing a fumble in the Eagles’ 35-17 loss to FCS No. 3 Towson.
3. Eric Ebron, TE, UNC. Ebron caught six passes for 108 yards and a TD in the loss to the Yellow Jackets.