Duke will make the short trip to Chapel Hill this weekend to close out the season with its annual rivalry game against North Carolina. The Blue Devils will be looking to snap a six-game losing streak and pick up just their second conference win—with the other coming over two months ago in the ACC opener against Boston College.
The Tar Heels have experienced similar struggles in conference play. North Carolina (6-5, 2-5 in the ACC), though, is bowl eligible, and the season finale provides it an opportunity to finish the year with a winning season.
Although the losses continue to pile up for Duke (3-8, 1-6), the team managed to remain competitive for four quarters in last week’s 38-31 home loss to Georgia Tech. In the end, however, it did not execute well enough in each of the game’s three phases to win.
Quarterback Sean Renfree is coming off arguably his best performance of the season, having thrown for 250 yards and four touchdowns in the loss to the Yellow Jackets. The redshirt junior signal caller should again have opportunities to find his two standout wide receivers, Conner Vernon and Donovan Varner, as the Tar Heels’ pass defense comes in as the worst-ranked unit in the conference. Tight end Cooper Helfet, who had six catches for 45 yards and two touchdowns last weekend, will be a threat working the middle of the field.
On the ground, however, it will be a much different story for the Blue Devils. North Carolina comes in giving up just 111 rushing yards per game, ranking third in the conference. Their front seven boasts two players, defensive end Quinton Coples and linebacker Zach Brown, receiving significant attention from NFL scouts. Running backs Desmond Scott and Juwan Thompson were not able to find much running room against Georgia Tech, but have been more productive as the season has progressed.
When the Tar Heels have the ball, they utilize a balanced attack. Quarterback Bryn Renner has thrown for almost 2,500 yards and 20 touchdowns while also completing nearly 70 percent of his passes. He has struggled with turnovers, though, leading the conference with 11 interceptions. Tailback Giovani Bernard leads the rushing attack, having run for 1,057 yards and 12 touchdowns this year.
Although Duke’s hopes of reaching a bowl game for the first time since head coach David Cutlcliffe arrived were dashed two weeks ago, it does have an opportunity to defeat its Tobacco Road rival and secure the Liberty Bell for the first time under Cutcliffe’s leadership.