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UNC Now is your place for Tar Heel sports. Beat writer Andrew Carter has up-to-the-minute news and analysis. Columnist Luke DeCock also contributes. Follow us on Twitter at @_andrewcarter or @accnow.

UNC at Duke: Getting to know the Blue Devils

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Can Duke find a way to slow down North Carolina RB Giovani Bernard? ROBERT WILLETT

CHAPEL HILL — When is a rivalry maybe not a rivalry? Perhaps it’s when one team has beaten the other in 22 of the past 23 meetings. That’s how it’s gone for North Carolina during its past 23 games against Duke. Since 1990, the Tar Heels have lost just once against the Blue Devils – and that defeat came in 2003.

Nonetheless, it’s North Carolina-Duke week, and the Heels have brought out the Victory Bell at practice.

Some things to know about the Blue Devils …

Duke: 5-2 (2-1 ACC, 1-1 Coastal Division)
Last time out: lost to Virginia Tech 41-20
Trending: Down. The Blue Devils built a 20-0 first-half lead at Virginia Tech, only to surrender 41 unanswered points in defeat. Duke’s next three: at home against UNC, then on the road at Florida State, then back home against Clemson. 

The name to know: WR Conner Vernon is already the ACC’s all-time leading receptions leader, and he’s on pace to become the conference’s all-time receiving yards leader, too. Vernon leads Duke with 625 yards receiving and five touchdowns.

He hasn’t played his best against UNC – as I detailed  here in this story today – but Vernon is among the most technically sound receivers in the conference, and he will challenge a Tar Heels secondary that also will be concerned with slowing down Jamison Crowder.

Other names to know: Crowder leads the team in receptions, with 46, and has 588 receiving yards. Senior QB Sean Renfree has completed 69.8 percent of his passes for 1,517 yards. Freshman RB Jela Duncan is averaging 5.8 yards per carry and has gained 265 yards rushing. Senior defensive lineman Kenny Anunike leads the team with six tackles for loss and five sacks.

Things about Duke that are of concern for UNC: The Blue Devils’ passing offense is good, with Renfree, Vernon and Crowder a solid quarterback-receiver trio. Duke is averaging 291.3 passing yards per game, which ranks 25th nationally. Defensively, the Tar Heels have been much stronger against the run than against the pass. UNC is allowing an average of 227.3 passing yards per game, which ranks 63rd nationally. But the Heels have intercepted twice as many passes (10) as ones they’ve allowed for touchdowns.

Things about Duke that UNC might feel good about: Duke’s run defense looked good at the start of the year but in the past three weeks the Blue Devils have surrendered 167 yards rushing at Wake Forest, 186 against Virginia and 269 against Virginia Tech. That’s not a good trend, and it has to be especially concerning for Duke given it will face UNC sophomore Giovani Bernard, whose two best career rushing performances have come during the past two weeks. Bernard leads the ACC in rushing, with 652 yards, despite missing two games.

Did you know: That Duke hasn’t beaten UNC at Wallace Wade Stadium since Nov. 19, 1988? (I was 7 at the time. Our Duke beat reporter, Laura Keeley, hadn’t even been born yet.)

Bottom line: This looked like a scary game for UNC while Duke was building that 20-0 lead at Virginia Tech. But then the Hokies scored the final 41 points of the game, closed out a 41-20 victory and left some serious doubts as to how good the Blue Devils really are.

Is Duke more the team that beat Wake Forest and Virginia, or the one that was blown out by Stanford and Virginia Tech? This week should provide us the answer.

The Blue Devils have enough talent on offense – especially at the skill positions – to beat UNC. But can Duke find a way to slow down Bernard and the Tar Heels’ rushing offense? If not, the result of this game isn’t likely to be different than what’s become the norm in this series during the past two decades.

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BTW I am predicting 2-0

BTW

I am predicting 2-0 after this week and next and the Heels being 7-2 and ranked for the first time in a while.

All good comments. I believe

All good comments. I believe a grinding ground game is the key here. Duke will be more of a threat if they control a majority of the POS. Heels have played very well in the second half and tonight it will really pay off. Dukes D will wilt and expect a bunch of points in the second half on behalf of the Heels. 

I still think that there is a package that could utilize MW, particularly in the redzone, but I would like to see it utilized in general. It makes the offense even more unpredictable than it already is.

UNC's fast paced..

offense will wear out Duke's defense. They are not deep, and have had injuries to boot. I'll not pretend that Duke will not have offensive opportunities. The question is whether or not they'll be able to capitalize on them. UNC has had a knack for the bend don't break pass defense, and seem to pick off passes at timely situations. On defense Duke will not stop Bernard and UNC's other two RB's. UNC will run the ball well, and if Duke changes to try and control the run UNC will pass out of the wide sets and move the ball down the field.

I'm looking forward to attending this game, and helping to turn the stadium Carolina Blue.

Well said

I don't see Dook stopping UNC on the ground. We just need to finish in the red zone and I think we can out score them.

Scoring in the red zone

There in lies the rub. It's tough to score in the red zone with the style of offense UNC runs under Renner bc he is not a threat to tuck it and run or keep it on the option/designed run. It's all about real estate and there simply isn't enough. No FG's, please.

I've wondered...

why maybe there hasn't been a "package" of plays for M. Williams at qb when they get down there. He is certainly more of a run threat.

Certainly

I've heard many fans ask the same question. Williams definitely needs to get on the field more than he is even though Renner is playing well. The offense demands it ... Especially in the RZ.

My guess would be that the coaches do not believe he is ready to throw the ball with conviction and defenses will stack the box big time if he enters the game in the RZ bc he'll be one dimensional.

agree

With what you and 1998 are saying. It is good that we have some options. The coaches should be able to figure it out. With Ebron, Gio, all our WRs and Renner/Williams and good play calling, I don't see why we can't get in the end zone most of the time. As I've said before, I think we will need to on Sat. Coach Fedora, should remember the WF game and not settle again for FGs.

FG's

Until my boys are old enough, I don't like seeing FG's unless they are for game winners or heading into HT.

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About the blogger

Andrew Carter is the University of North Carolina beat writer for the News & Observer.
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