by Mike Potter
The No. 23 Wolfpack (4-0, 1-0 ACC), which hasn’t gone 5-0 since its 9-0 start back in 2002, will host Virginia Tech (2-2, 1-0) at Carter-Finley Stadium in a game that may determine what to what level of bowl game Tom O’Brien’s club may aspire.
It’s going to be a very big Saturday of football in the Triangle, as UNC (1-2) tries to get its mind off the troubles in the program when East Carolina (2-1) rolls into Kenan Stadium. The Tar Heels got a little help in the personnel department when senior safety Da’Norris Searcy’s eligibility was cleared on Thursday after he had sat out the season’s first three games.
Meanwhile Duke (1-3, 0-1) will try to get the ship righted on the road against Maryland (3-1) in the Terps’ ACC opener.
State is looking for its first winning season since 2005, and O’Brien said he isn’t counting any chickens at this point.
“We’re certainly preparing for a very talented Virginia Tech team,” O’Brien said. “They’re certainly not much different from all the years I’ve played them. In our opinion they’re a handful of plays away from being a Top 10/Top 5 team in the country right now. … Success breeds success. They have a way they’re going to play defense and a way they’re going to play offense and the way they’re going to run special teams. In their execution the players all look the same.”
“Our guys are excited about the opportunity to play against them here on Saturday. I think hopefully we’re mature enough to understand (the hype). We certainly should be smart enough, but we may not know that until Saturday afternoon.”
The playing status of nine UNC players remains in question, including that of defensive tackle Marvin Austin who is on an indefinite suspension. But the Tar Heels are riding a little higher after their 17-13 road win over Rutgers on Saturday. They’re favored against the Pirates, but intensity is certain to be high on both sides.
“Any time you play an in-state football team it’s obviously a big game,” UNC coach Butch Davis said. “A lot of these kids played against each other in high school and they know each other, and the fans are in such close proximity in the state of North Carolina that it obviously adds excitement and hype.
“Just watching East Carolina’s football team, they’ve been extraordinarily explosive. They’re scoring 40 points a game, Coach (Ruffin) McNeill has come in and done a good job getting those kids to buy into the new scheme and the new philosophy, and his impact is evident. East Carolina’s got an awful lot of speed on their football team. And Dwayne Harris is one of the top football players we’ve played over the last couple of years. … It’s a big rivalry like all in-state rivalries are. I’m sure we’ll play them continually in the future.”
McNeill, the Pirates’ first-year head coach, is looking for a signature victory on the road.
“When I look at the (UNC) staff, maybe because I’ve been in college football for quite a while, I know the majority of it really well,” McNeill said. “I know they’ve had a tough time at it. They have gone though some adversity. But you have to take hats off to them as they’ve held that team together, even missing some guys. They've done a good job coaching.
“We know we’re facing a very talented and well-coached football team. We know they have been through a lot of adversity and have held it together. It's a really big challenge for us, but at the same time a really big opportunity. It’s very important for us to have a great week of practice. I’m looking forward to preparation this week and getting ready to go to Chapel Hill. … The rivalry is there. I know our fans love the competition. We loved it when I played. It was great. It’ll be intense. This is a grown man’s part of the season. I’m looking forward to the challenge.
Duke is on a three-game losing streak and needs a surprise victory to avoid seeing its chances at a winning season continue to slip away.
“We’re excited to be back in ACC play,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. “We have a big challenge. My hat’s off to Ralph Friedgen and his staff for getting back on the right track. They have all the elements and are using them well — big physical people and weapons on defense and certainly weapons in the kicking game and their return game and otherwise.
“I’m an optimist and always believing that we can (win.) We’re certainly not out of anything at this point. I knew two years ago this would be somewhat of a transition year, kind of turning our team over completely as far as numbers into a youthful team. We had 99 guys working in August on our squad and 51 of the 99 were redshirt or true freshmen. That gives you an idea of the youth. This team has more talent than we’ve had; we’re working every day to get it all pointed in the right direction.”
No. 23 N.C. State vs. Virginia Tech
[Saturday, 3:30 p.m., Carter-Finley Stadium]
Va. Tech leads 25-18-4.
Records: NCSU 4-0, 1-0 ACC; VT 2-2, 1-0.
Audio: WRAL-FM 101.5, XM 190, Sirius 212.
Coaches’ records — NCSU: Tom O’Brien 95-66, 20-21 at NCSU; VT: Frank Beamer 231-117-4, 189-94-2 at VT.
Leading rushers — NCSU: Mustafa Greene 53-242, 2 TD; VT: Tyrod Taylor 41-20, 0 TD.
Leading passers — NCSU: Russell Wilson 85-142-1112-1, 11 TD; VT: Taylor 49-75-746-2, 5 TD.
Leading receivers — NCSU: Owen Spencer 14-211; VT: Jarrett Boykin 11-243, 3 TD.
Leading tacklers — NCSU: Nate Irving 27, 5 TFL, 2SK, 1 FF; VT: Bruce Taylor 32, 9 ½ TFL, 3 SK.
Favorite — Tech by 4 (Vegas).
UNC vs. East Carolina
[Saturday, 3:30 p.m., Kenan Stadium]
UNC leads series 9-2-1.
Records: UNC 1-2; ECU 2-1.
Audio: WRBZ 850, WCHL 1360, WRDU-FM 106.1, XM 191, Sirius 213.
Video: ESPN3, Time Warner 520.
Coaches’ records — UNC: Butch Davis 72-40, 21-20 at UNC; ECU: Ruffin McNeill 3-1, 2-1 at ECU.
Leading rushers — UNC: Johnny White 35-178, 2 TD; ECU: Jonathan Williams 49-273, 4 TD.
Leading passers — UNC: T.J. Yates 68-100-825-1, 5 TD; ECU: Dominique Davis 85-129-890-3, 9 TD.
Leading receivers — UNC: Jheranie Boyd 9-258, 1 TD; ECU: Dwayne Harris 29-294, 4 TD.
Leading tacklers — UNC: Quan Sturdivant 16, 4 ½ TFL; ECU: Bradley Jacobs 21, 2 FF, 1 SK, 1 FR.
Favorite — UNC by 13 (Vegas).
Duke vs. Maryland
[Saturday, 6 p.m., Byrd Stadium, College Park]
Maryland leads series 30-19.
Records: Duke 1-3, 0-1 ACC; Maryland 3-1, 0-0.
Audio: WDNC 620, WRBZ 850, XM 192, Sirius 214.
Coaches’ records — Duke: David Cutcliffe 54-47, 10-18 at Duke; Maryland: Ralph Friedgen 69-47 all at UM.
Leading rushers — Duke: Desmond Scott 42-277, 2 TD; Maryland: Davin Meggett 33-268, 2 TD.
Leading passers — Duke: Sean Renfree 93-150-1113-7, 9 TD; Maryland: Danny O’Brien 23-37-329-0, 5 TD.
Leading receivers — Duke: Conner Vernon 28-449, 3 TD; Maryland: Torrey Smith 15-355, 5 TD.
Leading tacklers — Duke: Abraham Kromah 31, 2 TFL, 1 INT; Maryland: Alex Wujciak 49, 2 ½ TFL, 1 FF.
Favorite — Maryland by 7 ½ (Vegas).