Before every football game this year, The Blue Zone is going to sit down with a football writer from the opposing school’s student newspaper to get the scoop on their team and season.
This week, The Chronicle’s Daniel Carp spoke to The Daily Tar Heel's Sports Editor Brandon Moree about this weekend’s contest between Duke and North Carolina.
The Chronicle: North Carolina has dominated the Tobacco Road rivalry on the gridiron, taking 21 of its past 22 matchups against Duke. How has the Blue Devils' hot start impacted the way the Tar Heels approach this game, and do you think the game being played outside the season's final week for just the fourth time since 1965 will have an impact?
Brandon Moree: I'd say compared to years past this game definitely has more merit than it has before. I really like the fact that the game has been moved up in the schedule for a couple of reasons. I think in the past, being the last game of the year, it loses some of its luster because by that point in the school year a lot of people have already changed their focus over to basketball. Secondly, this year neither team has had a chance to blow up their schedule yet. Both teams have had pretty successful starts, so I think the battle for the Victory Bell this year has a little more intrigue than it has in years past.
TC: The Tar Heels are not used to facing a road atmosphere at Wallace Wade Stadium, as almost all of their matchups with Duke have taken place while students are home for Thanksgiving break. Do you think Duke having a legitimate home crowd could phase North Carolina early on?
BM: It certainly can, but I was in Miami last weekend and the crowd there was very loud and I think North Carolina handled that adversity very well. Crowds can always be a factor, but so far this season North Carolina has been able to fight through it.
TC: Riding a four game winning streak, including impressive victories against Virginia Tech and Miami in its last two games, North Carolina would likely be one of the favorites in the ACC's Coastal Division if not for its bowl ineligibility this season. Has being unable to reach a bowl game or participate in the ACC Championship impacted the team's approach?
BM: Not if you ask head coach Larry Fedora. Their goal has always been to have the best record in the Coastal Division. The Atlantic Coast Conference won't honor them with any reward or trip to the ACC Championship, but there's still a lot of pride on the line for those guys. They won't officially be champions, but in their own minds they will be, and they're certainly off to a nice strong start.
TC: Duke is reeling from a horrific collapse last weekend against Virginia Tech. What were your reactions from watching this team fall apart and what do you think they will do to respond?
BM: I was a bit surprised during the first half. Watching the game from the press box in Miami, I thought to myself 'who is this Duke team and what happened to the Virginia Tech team that I saw a week ago?' It sounds weird to say this but I was disappointed for the Blue Devils to watch a lead like that get built so quickly and then disappear in the second half. That's a heartbreaking way to lose, especially on the road like that, so it will be especially interesting to see how they'll respond this week. Especially going after that sixth win, that is an important number.
TC: North Carolina's offensive attack, which is as dangerous as it always has been, has found a new emphasis on the ground game. They have the ACC's top running back, Giovani Bernard, who has carried the ball 50 times for 439 yards in his past two games. What will Duke have to do to stop Bernard from taking over this contest?
BM: North Carolina is 5-0 when Giovani Bernard plays and 0-2 without him. He's their most important weapon, and without him they're just a different unit. The key to his success is the way his style fits into Fedora's system. He's a low, fast player and fits perfectly into Fedora's no-huddle offense. He can get to the outside out of the backfield and he's got good enough hands to make catches out of the flat. He's a very versatile player, given his size, and most of that is due to his speed.
TC: What's one matchup with Duke that the Tar Heels are most worried about coming into this contest?
BM: I think North Carolina is weakest in the secondary. Last week they showed up against Miami and focused on not getting beat deep. They need to keep this focus on the secondary and keep guys in front of them.
TC: Finally, what's your prediction for Saturday?
BM: I'm going to say North Carolina 35, Duke 24.