With two losses, it’s fair to assume that No. 18 North Carolina is eliminated from the College Football Playoff, but the Tar Heels are aiming to end their regular season on a strong note and carry some momentum into its Atlantic Coast Conference Championship clash with Clemson.
On Friday, the Tar Heels will host rival North Carolina State in Chapel Hill in the regular-season finale for both squads. It’s a chance for both teams to bolster their resumes for bowl season.
UNC (9-2, 6-1 ACC) brings to the game a potent offense, while NC State (7-4, 3-4 ACC) brings a stout defense. The Heels are sixth in the nation in passing touchdowns per game (3.1) and tied for eighth in total offensive yards per game (492.7). Meanwhile, the Wolfpack are 21st in total defense (323.4 yards allowed per game) and ninth in rushing yards allowed per game (101.4).
Tar Heels quarterback Drake Maye still leads the nation in total yards with 4,211 this season.
“NC State is a very emotional game, it’s a rival game, and I’ve always said that fans are the ones that create rivalries,” UNC coach Mack Brown said. “NC State has played great defense; not good defense. Drake Thomas, Isaiah Moore and Payton Wilson are three of the best linebackers in the country.”
Both teams are coming off loses. North Carolina saw its six-game winning streak snapped on Saturday in a surprise 21-17 loss to Georgia Tech.
The Tar Heels started that game against the Yellow Jackets off strong, as Elijah Green broke away for an 80-yard touchdown on UNC’s first offensive play. Brown told his players and assistant coaches to mentally reset after that play.
“It’s usually an imposter,” Brown said. “It just looks like it’s going to be too easy. And you jump out 17-0 and then you don’t finish it.”
Indeed, UNC was held scoreless in the second half as Georgia Tech scored a pair of touchdowns to take the lead. Brown called the loss and the Heels’ performance “very uncharacteristic” and “very, very disappointing.”
UNC might get two offensive weapons back for the NC State game. After missing the loss to Georgia Tech — both with upper-body injuries — tight end John Copenhaver and receiver Antoine Green both practiced on Monday.
The Wolfpack are coming off a 25-10 road loss at Louisville. NC State was forced to play redshirt freshman Ben Finley at quarterback due to injuries to Devin Leary and MJ Morris. In his first appearance of the season, Finley completed 16 of 35 passes for 201 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
It remains unclear if Morris will play against North Carolina.
“I’m not going have any answers on medical things,” NC State coach Dave Doeren said. “Let’s see this week how practice goes. We have four days. It’s really nobody’s business.”
Last week was also a tough week for NC State off the field as a former player — Joseph Boletepeli — was arrested after stalking and making threats against Doeren.
“Outside of the COVID year where it was tough for everybody to be a head coach, this last week was the hardest in my career,” Doeren said.
UNC has the advantage in the all-time series against NC State with a 68-37-6 record. The Wolfpack beat the Tar Heels last season 34-30 in Raleigh.
–Field Level Media