UNC Football Preview: North Carolina vs. Duke

For the 100th consecutive season, North Carolina will take on Duke on the gridiron when the Blue Devils come to Kenan Stadium on Saturday.
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The North Carolina Tar Heels take on the Duke Blue Devils at noon on Saturday inside Kenan Stadium. This is the 108th overall meeting between the two teams and the 100th consecutive season in which they’ve played (dating back to 1922).

Mack Brown started 0-2 against in-state opponents (Wake Forest, Appalachian State) in his second tenure at UNC, but has reeled off five in a row since (Duke and NC State twice, Wake Forest once).

North Carolina looks to get back on track following their embarrassing loss in Atlanta last weekend. Losing to Georgia Tech on the road, in and of itself, is not what’s embarrassing, it’s the manner in which they played.

The Tar Heels never found a rhythm offensively as the Georgia Tech defense made Sam Howell uncomfortable all night long.

In defense of UNC's 1-2 conference start, the schedule makers did them absolutely no favors this season. Through four weeks of the season, there have been eight ACC conference games. The Tar Heels were involved in three of them, two of which were on the road. 

While, yes, Carolina is certainly on the rise, that’s a tall task for even the most established nationally dominant teams.

Here’s the list of all eight ACC games through Week 4:

1. North Carolina vs. Virginia Tech (Week 1)
2. Georgia Tech vs. Clemson (Week 3)
3. Virginia vs. North Carolina (Week 3)
4. Florida State vs. Wake Forest (Week 3)
5. Wake Forest vs. Virginia (Week 4)
6. North Carolina vs. Georgia Tech (Week 4)
7. Clemson vs. NC State (Week 4)
8. Louisville vs. Florida State (Week 4)

Here's the number of conference games each team has played through Week 4:

1. North Carolina - 3
2. Clemson - 2
3. Florida State - 2
4. Georgia Tech - 2
5. Virginia - 2
6. Wake Forest - 2
7. Louisville - 1
8. NC State - 1
9. Virginia Tech - 1
10. Boston College - 0
11. Duke - 0
12. Miami - 0 
13. Pittsburgh - 0 
14. Syracuse - 0

Here's the number of conference road games each team has played through Week 4:

1. North Carolina - 2
2. Clemson - 1
3. Florida State - 1
4. Georgia Tech - 1
5. Louisville - 1
6. Virginia - 1
7. Wake Forest - 1
8. Boston College - 0
9. Duke - 0
10. Miami - 0
11. NC State - 0
12. Pittsburgh - 0 
13. Syracuse - 0 
14. Virginia Tech - 0

As you can see, through Week 4, no other ACC team had played as many as three conference games. In fact, five of the 14 schools are yet to play even one conference game in the first four weeks. Yet Carolina has already played three. Moreover, the Heels have played two conference away games, with no other team playing more than one and half the conference yet to play an ACC road game.

Duke is in both those categories: Saturday will be their first ACC game and first ACC road game of the 2021 season.

The good news on the scheduling front is that Carolina now gets the next three games at home – Duke, Florida State, and Miami, then a week off, before heading to South Bend to take on Notre Dame.

Last year the Tar Heels obliterated Duke in Durham. It was the Javonte Williams show. The now Denver Bronco rushed 12 times for 151 yards and three touchdowns, while catching four passes for 24 yards and a fourth touchdown. Sam Howell added four touchdowns of his own – three through the air (Williams, Dazz Newsome, Michael Carter) and one on the ground.

The most memorable moment in the recent history of the UNC-Duke series was the last time the two teams met in Chapel Hill. Carolina led the game 20-17 in the closing minutes of the fourth quarter and had first-and-goal from the Duke three to essentially seal the deal. However, Javonte Williams fumbled and Duke recovered setting up a two-minute drill for the win.

The Blue Devils took possession with 2:55 on the clock. On the drive, Duke converted a fourth-and-three from their own 26, and a fourth-and-one on the Carolina 32 (thanks to a facemask penalty). The Tar Heels took a timeout with 0:18 left and Duke in possession of a first down at the UNC 2. The very next play was a Tim Tebow-esque jump pass from the running back which Chazz Surratt intercepted to end the drive and ultimately the game (Carolina had to run one play). Here’s video of the interception:

Hopefully the score will be more like last season’s lopsided affair, but a win is a win.

TAR HEELS ON OFFENSE

Duke has not been great defensively early in the season. Combine that with UNC being back at home and looking to put a hurting on their next opponent after the Georgia Tech showing (all the more so because it’s Duke) and you get a recipe for the Tar Heels putting a lot of points on the board.

To be fair, Carolina’s defense has not been stellar either (so yes, I’m taking the over).

Would love to see Carolina continue to diversify their offensive attack beyond Sam Howell, Josh Downs, and Ty Chandler.

Is this a game where Khafre Brown or Antoine Green can assert themselves? Can Caleb Hood continue his growth so as to give Chandler even more of a break?

TAR HEELS ON DEFENSE

Duke is averaging 545 yards a game to this point in the season. For reference the Tar Heels are clocking in at 507 per game. Those 545 yards come quite evenly balanced between the ground (247.5) and the air (297.25).

Thus far, the Blue Devils have been better at hanging onto the ball in 2021. Duke’s 2020 bugaboo was turnovers (39 in 11 games); a statistic that was in large part responsible for their 2-9 record.

Duke’s quarterback is Gunnar Holmberg, who has completed 72% of his 129 passing attempts for 1140 yards and three touchdowns. Holmberg also has 42 rushing attempts and is third on the team with 159 yards on the ground; including punching in six touchdowns. He also has thrown just two picks.

Part of the reason for Holmberg’s success is Duke’s commitment to the running game, featuring Mataeo Durant. Durant leads the ACC with 87 attempts for 522 yards (130.5 per game) and eight touchdowns.

The Blue Devils also boast the ACC’s leading receiver in terms of number of catches. Jake Bobo has hauled in 34 passes, two ahead of UNC’s Josh Downs. Bobo is yet to score however.

PREVIOUS GAMES

UNC

  • L 17-10 | @ Virginia Tech
  • W 59-17 | vs. Georgia State
  • W 59-39 | vs. Virginia
  • L 45-22 | @ Georgia Tech

Duke

  • L 31-28 | @ Charlotte
  • W 45-17 | vs. NC A&T
  • W 30-23 | vs. Northwestern
  • W 52-33 | vs. Kansas

Here’s all the nitty-gritty details you need to know about Game 5 of the 2021 UNC football season:

North Carolina (2-2, 1-2) vs. Duke (3-1, 0-0)

Chapel Hill, NC
Kenan Stadium
Saturday, October 2, 2021
Noon ET
ESPN2

  • All-time Series: UNC 63-40-4
  • Series Streak: UNC won 2
  • Last Meeting: Saturday, November 7, 2020 | Durham, NC | 56-24 UNC
  • Last Time UNC won: Saturday, November 7, 2020 | Durham, NC | 56-24 UNC
  • Last Meeting in Chapel Hill: Saturday, October 26, 2019 | 20-17 UNC

NORTH CAROLINA
Record: 2-2 (1-2 ACC)
Head Coach: Mack Brown (Florida State, '74)
Overall Record: 261-134-1, 33rd year
Record at UNC: 86-58-1, 13th year

DUKE
Record: 3-1 (0-0 ACC)
Head Coach: David Cutcliffe (Alabama, ’76)
Overall Record: 121-118, 21st year
Record at Duke: 77-89, 14th year

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