NC State (5-2, 2-1) at North Carolina (5-3, 2-2), 12:30 PM, ACC Network
North Carolina quarterback Bryn Renner might be fiery on the field, but he is still the son of a football coach. And his answers – even during the week leading up to North Carolina’s biggest rivalry game of the year against NC State – reflected that. Turner Walston, a Tar Heel Monthly magazine editor and GoHeels.com writer, has covered Renner for a long time. So he decided to press Renner (playfully) for a bit more candor.
TW: Bryn, be honest.
BR: Gotcha. I always am.
TW: You can’t go to a bowl game.
BR: That’s correct. I’m aware of that.
TW: The ACC has said even if you’re top in Coastal, you can’t win it.
TW: The state championship is out the window.
BR: That’s correct.
If you’re going to salvage something from this season, the fans want you to beat NC State.
BR: Absolutely. (Sees teammates walking by. Waves at them, stalling for time, leans over in his chair to say something to them.) Hey guys! (Laughs nervously.) Yeah, you know. It’s sad to say, but I just don’t buy into all that stuff. I know it’s cliched and you guys are going to think I’m lying, but –
(Andrew Carter of the News and Observer): We think you’re a coach’s son.
BR: I am, but it just comes – it’s how I was raised. You’ve got to prepare for every game like it’s going to be NC State or it’s going to be whoever you guys want it to be. Whoever you guys want us to play, I’m so focused on what we have to do as an offense, that’s my main focus. How can we get the ball in the end zone for us to win games? I sound like a broken record. We could play the frickin’ Bears or the best defense in the league, the 49ers. We could go be playing them and I want to focus on how can we as an offense put the ball in the end zone.
And NC State head coach Tom O’Brien – who has been a responder during game-week and an instigator afterwards during this five-game winning streak – wasn’t biting, either. He and Raleigh News and Observer beat writer Joe Giglio always provide entertaining banter, but other reporters pressed him about the rivalry, too. And he did nothing but either praise the Tar Heels and their coaching staff or carefully dodge potential minefield-type questions.
He was reminded that in the off-season, North Carolina head coach Larry Fedora said at a booster event that he didn’t want to “legitimize” NC State. Normally the type of comment that would provoke at least a subtle jab from O’Brien, he only said: “That’s like recruiting rhetoric – it’s the same thing that happens in rival games. You just forget about it and move on. It doesn’t mean a lot.”
So both teams are left to pump themselves up for this game. Of course, that hasn’t been an issue for NC State. But under former head coach Butch Davis, UNC was thought to be taking the game too lightly – or, at least, not as seriously as their neighbors up I-40. Davis often refused to recognize the significance of the game. North Carolina fans would often blame that attitude for the losses.
But Renner seemed to take offense to that notion. “Everybody is entitled to their own opinion. We know how we prepare and how we want to play. I think if you’re a fan … you’re always going to have your opinion against the other person. So I think that’s where everybody voices their opinions from and it’s based on that. But as far as do we not take it as (seriously), (does NC State) take it more personally, I don’t think that’s the case. I think we really look forward to playing them. They’re a very good opponent. Right down the street from us, so we always want to play our best when we play them.”
Fedora isn’t taking any chances, though. He decorates the Carolina locker room with NC State paraphernalia on Sunday immediately after Carolina’s disappointing 33-30 loss to Duke. Posters of NC State celebrating wins, the Wolfpack schedule, even red and white ribbons (“it looked like almost like he went to party city and put up all the flyers and the big hoopla,” Renner said). When told about it, O’Brien got as controversial as he would get all week, and that was with a joke: “I mean, I wasn’t over there. I was flying back, so I don’t know who did it.”
NC State is on a two-game winning streak with a win over a top-five Florida State team and their first Atlantic Division road win a week ago at Maryland. North Carolina is coming off of a 33-30 loss at Duke, its third this season by five points or less. Carolina is 1-3 in those games while NC State is 3-1 in close games.
NC State safety Earl Wolff is never at a loss for words, and even he was low-key about the rivalry. For the most part. “I just feel like if we come out and play with that same intensity we played with last year, a lot of people say we’re not really road warriors, we’re not really that good on the road, but if you can’t get hype for the Carolina game then you shouldn’t even walk on the field that day,” Wolff said. “That’s how we feel. That’s how everybody feels. So we’re just going to try to stop them, stop their offense and win that game.”
If it sounds simple, it’s been just that simple for NC State in recent years. It’s an uphill battle for the Tar Heels, who have lost games to the Wolfpack in the last five years similarly to the way they’ve lost games this season: close, and late. Carolina has lost to NC State in a blowout, and after falling behind early and having comebacks fall short, and even after losing late leads.
Carolina has become famous for its comebacks this year, except for the fact that none of their comebacks have resulted in wins. But Carolina has erased – or nearly erased – second-half deficits of 29 points and 14 points (in the fourth quarter last week) this season, only to fall just short. “If we can just focus, put together our game plan, not shoot ourselves in the foot, do what’s necessary early on then it won’t matter,” UNC right guard Jonathan Cooper said. “If we’re able to finish drives not with field goals but with touchdowns then we won’t be talking about the last late minutes of the quarter.”
A few slightly different bounces of the football (specifically, Maryland’s kicker bouncing a 30-yard field goal inside the goal post), and NC State would have also been on the end of a heartbreaking loss. But after three close wins this season (two in the last two contests), the Wolfpack feels confident it can win those games. And of course, they’re confident that if they play like they should, they can win their sixth straight.
NC State has been an inconsistent bunch under O’Brien, but when they’re on, as Wolff pointed out, they’re hard to stop. They just want to stay loose, relax and have fun. And why not? It’s worked so far.
“Sometimes, you see spotlights during games, we bring that energy. When we have that energy, it’s hard for a lot of teams to stop us,” Wolff said. “Coach O’Brien talks a lot about enthusiasm, everybody being very enthusiastic and it starts in practice. I feel like once somebody makes a play and I get hype, it feeds off to other people….We’re going to have to just reenact that out, really, and just have fun. It’s all about having fun. That’s what football is about. We’re going to try to have fun and win Saturday.”
Moments in NC State-North Carolina history: Just as I ran across the gem of the Duke mascot nearly killing a UNC student with a trident in an old Daily Tar Heel, I found some other NC State-related tales as well. From the November 3, 1935 DTH:
NC State students came over right before the football game to try to steal Rameses III and got a ewe instead. They stole instead a black bull, a “perfumed billy goat and a horse that laughed.” They disguised themselves as Carolina students. “But the ways of city fellers are queer and, and, after chasing the poor critter half way back to Raleigh, they finally got it in the car to be put on display at a State pep rally. One thing was overlooked. Rameses III is a ram, but not this substitute which made no difference to engineers, reserve officers or city fellers. State students obviously don’t believe in stealing rams, like ewe, ewe and ewe.”
At the State game in Raleigh, State fans brought in two cows that had red-painted signs that read “We’ll Beat Carolina and This Is No Bull” and the other said “Carolina is a Lot of Bull”. One cow wouldn’t move and they had to carry it. The State ram got loose and threw off the State colors, causing the Carolina fans to stand and cheer, but they caught the ram. Some kids from Chapel Hill High steal a sign and half of the State stands chase after them and get it back.
From the 1999 10-6 Carolina win, a thriller that saw perhaps two of the worst quarterbacked games in each school’s history:
Equal time: Russell Wilson’s crazy “Hail Mary” against North Carolina in 2010:
A look back at the good old days when both coaches would talk some trash (and by “good old days” I mean “last year”):
Prediction: NC State, 27-24. Unlike Las Vegas, who has made the Tar Heels the favorites for each of the last five games, I’ll believe that North Carolina will beat NC State once it actually happens. They’re capable of doing it, and it seems like the rivalry is due for a UNC win. But of two inconsistent teams, I’ll go with the one that seems the least inconsistent.
Duke (6-2, 3-1) at No. 10/11 Florida State (7-1, 4-1), 3:30 PM, ESPNU
In the aftermath of Duke’s last-minute win over North Carolina, the Blue Devils were reveling in the joy of regaining the Victory Bell for the first time since 2003 and gaining bowl eligibility for the first time since 1994.
The looks of disbelief and sheer joy were still plastered on the players’ faces an hour after the game when they met with the media. The emotional swings had been almost too cruel to Duke for any other outcome besides a win. Carolina took a 30-26 lead with 3:12 to go on a flukey play, and Duke mounted an agonizing 14-play drive to go ahead with 13 seconds left.
But less than 24 hours later, with the Victory Bell still ringing in their ears, Duke would have to start preparing for Florida State. Head coach David Cutcliffe even understood that right after the Carolina game. He said he would come in early in the morning, ring the bell, and then move on.
So there’s a mental balancing act between Duke deservedly enjoying a huge win, the relief of earning bowl eligibility and the knowledge that FSU presents a huge challenge. “I don’t think you can just squash that feeling either. That’s part of what they’ve earned, too,” Cutcliffe said. “Now, show me you’re mature enough to feel good about yourself and work hard because if you’re ever going to have a real good program, that’s what you’ve got to learn to do. … Handling losing is not easy. Handling winning is much harder.”
The team played won an emotional rivalry game in front of a packed Wallace Wade Stadium, and the energy surrounding the program right now is palpable even to them. Linebacker David Helton said that he has more and more students each week randomly approaching him to congratulate him for a big win.
But Helton said that this team has come to trust the process each week: enjoy a win or stew over a loss for 24 hours (or less), and move on to practice Sunday afternoon.”We created a routine that we’ve been working on all year round that it’s not hard to go back to because we do it every week continually, year in and year out. Going back to our normal routine for this week is just like any other week,” Helton said.
“I don’t think it was difficult. Yes, it was a great win. A lot of guys were riding on emotions, big rivalry game. But we know after the game, celebrate, have a great time. Next day, it’s time to come back to work,” tailback Josh Snead said.
Senior cornerback Tony Foster has been around the program for a long time. Despite the different results this year, he said that this team has always trusted Cutcliffe and his process. Whether they lost by 40 points or won by 40, they have always been ready to get back to work.
“(Cutcliffe) preaches enjoy the process. Enjoy the practices. Enjoy the work that you’re putting into it because it’s not just about the scoreboard at the end of a game. It’s about the process. It’s about being with your teammates, going through those struggles so you can enjoy the victories that much more.”
And like every other week, Cutcliffe is honest about the challenge his team faces. Florida State is the type of team that Duke will have to execute very well against, hope FSU makes some mistakes and then get a little luck as well. Just a week before the North Carolina game, Duke had a bad road trip to Blacksburg that saw the Blue Devils lose a 41-20 lead. Clearly, they responded well in the week between those two games. They’re capable of responded well again. Cutcliffe knows that they are in position to win the Coastal Division, and he wants his team to believe.
“They’ve got to believe. You don’t have a chance if you don’t. I told them that. I said, ‘You’ve got to believe in yourselves or I can promise you one thing: you won’t win. You have no chance if you don’t believe’,” Cutcliffe said. “And I’m not talking about trying to talk yourself into it. The only to have any confidence, people can’t give you confidence: you earn your confidence. That’s the message to them. It’s right outside this wall right here (on the practice field) is where that’s earned.”
Moments in Duke-Florida State history: The teams haven’t played a lot in recent years, and not many of the games have been notable. Duke’s last trip to Tallahassee in 2007 actually resulted in FSU’s narrowest win in the series (25-6, 19 points). So here are a few random highlights (vaguely) associated with each team. Antone Smith had the most rushing yards by a Seminole against Duke in that game, though (146).
FSU defensive end Tank Carradine loves snakes, which somehow makes him more terrifying.
This is not technically FSU or Duke, but this Miami fan was very excited last week and the FSU fans around him appear to be horrified:
Here’s the Miami fan that ran out on the field last week in the middle of a play. “There’s somebody streaking across the field, although he’s not a complete streaker.”
From Duke’s big win last week: GET THE BELL!
Jamison Crowder’s game-winning catch seemingly gets more impressive on each viewing.
Prediction: Florida State, 37-27. This might be a bit closer than the actual final score, but it’s asking way too much of Duke to go to Tallahassee – for the first time under Cutcliffe – and beat the Seminoles, who are better “on paper” at every position. Duke will still compete, though.
Clemson (6-1, 3-1) at Wake Forest (4-3, 2-3), Thursday, 7:30 PM, ESPN
Moments in Clemson-Wake Forest history: At this point last year, Clemson began to show vulnerabilities: their first loss came in Game 9 to Georgia Tech, which was at least somewhat understandable. But the Tigers would go 2-4 in their final six games.And the first real sign of impending disaster was two weeks after their first loss, at home against Wake Forest. Clemson hung on for a 31-28 win and arguably, they should have lost. They clinched the Atlantic Division against the Deacons, but would get blown out at NC State and at South Carolina to finish the regular season.
Oh, and Clemson Tom is tired of Clemson fans looking back at the past. This team is different. It’s Pawsome.
Prediction: Clemson, 27-16. Clemson has looked a little, well, Clemson-ish lately. The Tigers have won three straight since losing to Florida State, but in rather uninspiring fashion, allowing Boston College and Georgia Tech to put up 31 points each and then slogging their way through last week’s Virginia Tech game. Clemson trailed 7-3 early and while they eventually took control, they looked pretty bad, particularly on offense. Wake Forest is not much better or worse now than it was a year ago, and the Deacons under Jim Grobe have been known to pull off a few upsets. It won’t be easy for Clemson, but Dabo Swinney should have his team’s attention heading into this Thursday night primetime matchup. Wake Forest still has a number of players suspended or injured, though star wide receiver Michael Campanaro should make his return. If Clemson messes around too much with the Deacons, they might just get themselves beat.
Georgia Tech (3-4, 2-3) vs. BYU (4-4), 3:00 PM, RSN
Mascot facts: Cosmo the Cougar made his first (costumed) appearance in 1953, and the name derives from BYU being selected as a “Cosmopolitan school”. Seriously. BYU did have live cougars briefly, Cleo and Tarbo. An alum captured a cougar and her kittens and donated the little ones to BYU. Tarbo died in 1930 and Cleo was sent to a Salt Lake City zoo.
Oh, and here’s a nice “this is Sportscenter” commercial spoof with BYU quarterback Riley Nelson’s summer internship at BYUtv.
Prediction: Georgia Tech, 23-21. This prediction is based almost solely on BYU’s road struggles this year. The Cougars were actually fairly competitive in their last outing at Notre Dame, losing just 17-14. But they don’t have a great win on their schedule. It’s difficult to gauge how good they really are, particularly since they are winless on the road. But Georgia Tech is difficult to assess: coming off of a bye week (and firing defensive coordinator Al Groh), the Yellow Jackets thumped Boston College at home 37-17. It was the fewest points they had allowed since September 8th. (Of course, Boston College had the ball for a little over 16 minutes out of 60, so that helps. They still averaged 6.3 yards per play.) BC converted just 1-of-9 third downs and turned it over twice, which helps. But Georgia Tech’s offense can be its best defense when it gets going, and they need to hope BYU’s inconsistent offense stalls.
Maryland (4-3, 2-1) at Boston College (1-6, 0-4), ESPN3
Moments in Maryland-Boston College history: Until Boston College joined the league, there wasn’t much history. BC leads the series 6-3 (5-2 since joining the league), and there were only two meetings prior to ’05 (1985 and 1986). But perhaps the most significant game for either team was Maryland’s 42-35 home win over No. 8 Boston College. It was just BC’s second loss of the season, while the win brought Maryland to 5-5. Just a week prior to that, BC lost for the first time that season to Florida State. So close to playing for a national title with quarterback Matt Ryan, but it wasn’t to be. And Byrd Stadium helped grow its legend as the Bermuda Triangle of the ACC (hat tip to NC State head coach Tom O’Brien).
For the uniform buffs out there, Boston College will be wearing these Saturday:
This is UConn era-Randy Edsall, but someone edited a video to make it seem like he’s doing the Soulja Boy dance:
And for those who like to kill BC fans for not showing up to games, I’d remind them that this happened at Notre Dame after a BC win there just five years ago. So it is possible.
Prediction: Maryland, 19-12. Not a lot of scoring, and a lot of general hideousness. Although it will be interesting to see which quarterback plays for Maryland, Devin Burns or Caleb Rowe. Maryland’s not talking, as you might imagine, and there’s some speculation that the athletic Burns and the accurate Rowe could split time. It may not matter, though. It’s difficult to say that BC has given up on head coach Frank Spaziani, who appears to be on his way out. But things aren’t going well right now. The Eagles are struggling to run the ball, and the last thing you want facing a pretty good Maryland defense is a one-dimensional offense. The Eagles will hit some big plays in the passing game, but BC’s defense has been – and remains – pretty bad, even against some less-potent offenses.
Week 8: 5-1 (5-1 ACC)
Total: 43-12 (16-6 ACC)
Boston College (1-5, 0-3) at Georgia Tech (2-4, 1-3)
Moments in Boston College-Georgia Tech history: These two ACC foes have only met seven times (Georgia Tech leads 5-2), and not since 2008 when Georgia Tech won 19-16 in Chestnut Hill. The teams have only met twice since expansion, and BC won the first meeting in 2007, 24-10. So there aren’t a lot of moments to pull from, but here’s this great moment in Paul Johnson/ACC officiating history involving both teams:
And this video of Johnson touching a fan’s baby is kind of hilarious:
For Boston College? It’s the simple pleasures in life, I guess. Although one guy did win a Nintendo Wii.
Prediction: Georgia Tech, 34-24. Hard to know what to expect here. But you can’t bet against Georgia Tech coming off of a bye. Wait, what? It’s the other way around? Anyway, Boston College was quite literally beaten up last weekend by Florida State, and at least Georgia Tech has had a week of rest. Besides, Boston College’s defense is not good.
No. 12/10 Florida State (6-1, 3-1) at Miami (4-3, 3-1)
Moments in Florida State-Miami history: In 1987, Bobby Bowden showed why he was awesome. In a battle of two top-four teams facing off in late October, FSU led 19-3 early, but Miami came back and took a 26-19 lead in the fourth. FSU scored a touchdown with 42 seconds left but rather than kick an extra point to tie, Bowden went for the win. The pass was incomplete, and FSU lost. But what cajones!
We all know about the missed field goals in this rivalry. But it’s still stunning to see that there are four Wide Right games and one Wide Left game, all of which were misses by FSU kickers. It’s just uncanny.
The only close comparison on the Hurricanes’ side is 2005’s Miami Muff.
An 18-minute clip of bad calls by ACC officials from last year’s Miami-Florida State game, made by an FSU fan, in a game FSU won. Never change, FSU fans.
Prediction: Florida State, 37-17. Miami’s defense played pretty well last week against North Carolina, and Florida State’s offense has shown that it can sometimes slow itself down better than any opponent could. But the Florida State defense is still dominant, and Miami will be without starting quarterback Stephen Morris.
Virginia Tech (4-3, 2-1) at No. 14/13 Clemson (5-1, 2-1)
Moments in Virginia Tech-Clemson history: One of the more interesting angles is Daniel Rodriguez, a sophomore wide receiver for Clemson. He was a war hero, receiving the Purple Heart and Bronze Star for his service in Iraq and Afghanistan. The 24-year-old grew up a Virginia Tech fan and wanted to walk on there, but he was still short a credit from community college and Virginia Tech didn’t want to apply for an NCAA waiver. Clemson did. He will lead Clemson out of the tunnel on Saturday.
This Clemson fan mad (NSFW: language).
Stick it in.
Prediction: Clemson, 44-30. Virginia Tech’s offense got going last week against Duke, scoring 41 unanswered points against the Blue Devils. Their defense still has a lot of issues, though, and Clemson’s offense is No. 13 nationally. And the Virginia Tech blog Gobbler Country put it better than I could:
Hokies Win If: They continue playing the way they did in the second half against Duke. That and if Clemson’s entire team breaks a mirror walking under a ladder chasing a black cat.
Wake Forest (3-3, 1-3) at Virginia (2-5, 0-3)
Moments in Wake Forest-Virginia history: Scott Stadium has not been kind to Wake Forest: the Deacons have lost 11 of their last 12 trips there. But Wake has only played there once since expansion (2003) and just three times since 2001. Wake has lost their last two games there (in 2003 and 2007) by a combined four points. The two teams haven’t played at all since 2008, when Wake won 28-17 at home.
Somehow, I missed that UVa trotted out a “Wahoo”(?) mascot that Virginia Tech blog The Key Play describes as “the laboratory lovechild of a horse and black bear”. Thankfully, it was short-lived.
This has nothing to do with either team, but it came up during another YouTube search, so here is Mike Patrick in all his glory:
Prediction: Wake Forest, 24-17. In a battle of two teams in a free fall, someone has to win. I’ll go with Jim Grobe and the Deacons, even if it is on the road.
Week 7: 3-1 (3-1 ACC)
Total: 38-11 (11-5 ACC)
NC State’s 17-16 win over Florida State two weeks ago was a potential season-changer for the Wolfpack. But after a bye week to bask in the victory, NC State (4-2, 1-1) is ready to get back to business at Maryland (4-2, 2-0). “This is going to tell us where we want to go, whether we want to just stay complacent with a Florida State win and that would be our season, or whether we want to go farther in the season,” NC State wide receiver Quintin Payton said.
Losing after a big win has been a bit of a trend in recent Wolfpack history. The best example was 2010, when NC State won at Georgia Tech and started 4-0 before falling in a close one at home to Virginia Tech. They got a huge win over Boston College the next week, finally beating head coach Tom O’Brien’s former school, a week before losing at a mediocre ECU team in overtime. They followed that up with a win over a ranked Florida State team before losing at Clemson the next week.
But in 2011, the roller coaster ride of NC State football seemed to even out towards the end of the year. They won their final three games, beating a top-ten Clemson team at home and then coming back for a win in the regular-season finale against Maryland.
The comeback is what’s key there, though: for awhile, it looked like the same old Wolfpack was back. They inexplicably crushed Clemson the previous week. Nearly three quarters of football later, they were down 41-14 at home to a two-win Maryland team. “You never want to put yourself in that position. Looking back, I think we tried too hard early. I’ve certainly never been in a situation where you had to score 35 fourth-quarter points,” O’Brien said.
And yet, they did: NC State scored 42 unanswered (35 in the fourth quarter) to win, 56-41. O’Brien knows that this year’s game will be different, though. “Their psyche at that point, they were a 2-9 team and now they’re 4-2 and they’ve won two in a row and they’ve won two ACC games. Certainly going to College Park has been a tough place for us to play,” he said.
But every Atlantic Division venue has been tough for the Wolfpack, seemingly: they are winless on the road in division since O’Brien took over as head coach. “It just means I’m a bad coach against opponents in our conference on the road,” O’Brien said dryly. “It’s my fault when we lose. I’ll try to be a better coach this week.” He added a derisive sniff.
Maryland has been one of the places NC State has had a chance to win a division road game more often than not under O’Brien. But Byrd Stadium is one of those sneakily difficult places to play for all ACC teams, not just NC State. In 2010, NC State only had to beat Maryland to win the Atlantic Division crown, and they led by 14 points late. But Maryland came back to win 38-31.
“It was cold,” defensive end Brian Slay said of his memories of that game. “It wasn’t a good trip to say the least. They spoiled our chance to go to the ACC Championship game a few years ago. So we’re going to keep that in mind and also just try to go out there and use what happened two years ago and be the first time in awhile that’s won at Maryland at NC State.”
NC State is 2-3 against Maryland under O’Brien and has lost eight of the last 12 meetings. This will only be the second time NC State and Maryland have faced off with NC State coming off of a win under O’Brien, and NC State is 1-1 in those games (including last year).
NC State has control of the Atlantic Division at this point after beating Florida State. The win over Florida State can revitalize this team for the second half of the schedule, but only if it takes care of a team it should beat.
The 2010 loss is still on the minds of this NC State team. A lot of the players remember it very well, and don’t want history to repeat itself. “(The team) was saying how two years ago Maryland ruined (Atlantic Division title hopes) for us, so let’s not let it happen again at Maryland,” Slay said.
Moments in NC State-Maryland history: Sorry in advance, NC State fans. But it’s the Torrey Smith game in 2010.
And sorry about this one too, but with a Doc Walker “locked up in the closet” reference and a long Chris Turner run, I had to:
But I’m going to make up for it now (from last year):
And from 2009:
And of course, the NC State-Maryland rivalry gave us this from Ron Cherry, otherwise known as one of the most important moments in ACC history.
Prediction: NC State, 26-13. Maryland’s defense is very good, but the offense is…not so much. And NC State’s defense is playing with renewed confidence after controlling Florida State’s powerful offense two weeks ago. At some point, O’Brien has to win a division road game. This feels like that point.
ESPN’s College GameDay will not be coming to Wallace Wade Stadium on Saturday for the 7:00 PM kickoff, and North Carolina’s sloppy performance and Duke’s 41-20 loss have lessened some of the excitement. But North Carolina (5-2, 2-1) and Duke (5-2, 2-1) still have the potential to put on a great show for the fans.
North Carolina held up their end of the bargain with a win, but barely. Nothing about the Tar Heels’ 18-14 win at Miami last Saturday was particularly inspiring, unless you like penalties (15 for 140 yards). Carolina’s defense played perhaps its best game of the year, but Miami hurt itself with dropped passes and penalties.
The biggest difference in the game could be Carolina tailback Giovani Bernard, whose 239 all-purpose yards at Miami were a very bright spot. Bernard’s big day, combined with Duke allowing Virginia Tech to put up 269 yards rushing, caused some to predict Bernard would have a huge day against the Blue Devils. And the Duke defense, coming off of allowing 41 unanswered points at Virginia Tech, wasn’t too happy.
“That’s like saying a guy is going to go first round in the draft. You don’t know that. Something can happen,” Duke defensive end Kenny Anunike said. “That’s all speculation. We’re not going to let that get to us. We’re just going to continue to prepare this week as we are right now and just keep on working to make sure that that doesn’t happen.”
Anunike is the picture of positivity at all times – his favorite saying is “just a minor setback for a major comeback” – but even he seemed sick of answering questions about Virginia Tech on Tuesday: “Like my mom always said, you can’t cry over spilled milk. There’s nothing you can do about it. You’ve got to just pour some more.”
Cornerback Ross Cockrell is careful in what he says to the media, but he looked visibly annoyed when asked about Bernard’s projected stats. “I would say that’s why we play the games,” Cockrell said with a shrug. “If it was that easy, then we’d probably just – I guess we’d just give up every game and just let the analysts say whatever they have to say about it.”
And no analyst could have predicted some of the strange moments in this rivalry over the years. Rather than obsess too much over the numbers, let’s take a look at some of the odder moments.
Moments in North Carolina-Duke history: I was going through old issues of The Daily Tar Heel while doing research for a book on North Carolina basketball a few years ago, And thankfully, I discovered that this happened (from the November 21, 1933 issue):
During the Carolina-Duke football game, “there occurred an accident which missed being a tragedy by only a few inches when the trident of the official Duke blue devil struck a University student in the back. In some miraculous manner the student was not seriously hurt, although it must have been rather painful, but it also seems remarkable to us that after the days of high feelings a student outbreak was averted.” The Chief Cheerleader averted a riot and after everyone saw he wasn’t seriously hurt, “the crowd gave much of its sympathy to the unfortunate blue devil who had hurled the spear.”
The craziest part? In a February 10, 1939 DTH, it was reported that the student who was struck by a trident was killed an automobile accident. More detail was given about what happened: he was in the last row of the marching band when the Blue Devil overthrew the spear and it pierced his back right above his hips. The fork was cut out on the field in an emergency operation and the wound was treated with “anti-toxin”. He stayed in the hospital for several weeks.
The Blue Devil almost killed a guy with a trident!
The mental image of Dan Orner running through Duke’s inflatable football helmet after his game-winning 47-yarder in 2002 is perhaps one of the funnier moments in the history of the rivalry. Via Inside Carolina, here was Orner’s explanation for that:
I had a dream I was going to kick a game-winner at [Kenan Stadium] and run out the opposite side of the stadium and all the way down to Franklin Street. I said to myself that it would me nice if I could run through that [inflatable Duke] helmet after I kick the game-winner. I was floating.
Okay, then. And also from that game, former Carolina WR Sam Aiken’s thoughts on retaining the Victory Bell:
We put it right back in the locker room. Before we go in the shower, we go ring it. Everybody dances around naked and just… (laughter from media drowns out the last few words.)
The first game film at Duke to be shot in color, this Carolina-Duke game took place on November 15, 1941. Duke won 20-0 and wrapped up an invitation to the Rose Bowl.
Prediction: North Carolina, 34-30. Duke struggled to stop the run last week against a Virginia Tech team that has been struggling to run the ball. Although Duke is getting some guys back on the defensive line, it will arguably be facing the second-best offensive line it has seen (since Stanford). If Duke can stop Bernard, it should win the game. But that’s easier said than done, as Bernard has shown against every opponent he has faced this year. North Carolina is still undefeated with him in the lineup. If North Carolina forgets about him for too long, or hurts itself with mistakes as it did last week against Miami, Duke has a great opportunity to win.
North Carolina is slowly gaining confidence, particularly offensively, and Duke seemed frustrated after their 41-20 loss at Virginia Tech, even on Monday. Duke went into last week’s game feeling pretty good about itself, only to get run out of Blacksburg in the second half. They can’t let that game beat them twice. For North Carolina, beating Miami might have hurt the Tar Heels more than helped them if they aren’t cognizant of needing to play a cleaner game. If Duke is able to channel their frustration and anger over last week’s game the right way, they’re more than capable of winning. But if North Carolina plays relatively mistake-free football and is able to get ahead of Duke early, it could be a long night for Duke.
Okay, I went through and actually predicted this game by game because I’m either insane or…no, just insane. My ACC ballot was based on those predictions.
1. Florida State (14-4)*
2. Duke (14-4)*
3. NC State (13-5)**
4. UNC (13-5)**
5. Miami (13-5)**
6. Maryland (9-9)
7. Clemson (7-11)
8. Wake Forest (6-12)
9. Virginia (5-13)
10. Boston College (5-13)
11. Virginia Tech (4-14)
12. Georgia Tech (3-15)
*Duke and Florida State only face off against each other once, and I have Florida State winning. Ergo, Florida State wins the ACC regular-season. (But not the Tournament. I think NC State will win that. Since that’s the actual ACC winner, I figured I might as well go ahead and call that one, too.)
**Those 3-4-5 teams finish with the same record, so I just sort of arbitrarily ordered them because I didn’t feel like going back and looking at tiebreakers.
ACC Player of the Year: Michael Snaer, Florida State. NC State’s Lorenzo Brown, C.J. Leslie and maybe even Richard Howell will make a run at this. I think Miami’s Reggie Johnson and Kenny Kadji might also have something to say about this. But Snaer is a man on a mission, and while those other teams will be more offensively balanced, Snaer will be FSU’s best player on both ends of the floor.
ACC Rookie of the Year: T.J. Warren, NC State. Call it a hunch.
All-ACC First Team:
Michael Snaer, Florida State
Lorenzo Brown, NC State
Erick Green, Virginia Tech
Reggie Bullock, North Carolina
Mason Plumlee, Duke
(Honestly, they said “last call for ballots” and I panicked, writing down the first five or so names I could think of that I had been considering. But in hindsight, I think it’s a good list.)
In Carolina’s first 16 games, Hairston shot 26-of-69 from three-point range (37.7%). He had some big games against quality opponents, like hitting 3-of-5 three’s against UNLV and 3-of-4 against Kentucky (both Carolina losses). And he even started ACC play well with a 2-of-5 performance against Boston College. But in his next 16 games – all against ACC opponents – he made 7-of-50 three’s (14%).
Hairston never shied away from shooting, though. In 219 minutes during that slump, he took 50 three’s. (He even earned the Twitter hashtag #PJBeShootin for his proclivity to take three-pointers, no matter how ill-advised they seemed.)
And his head coach Roy Williams did not hesitate to tell him when a shot was a bad shot. But he also encouraged the then-freshman to shoot his way out of it. “Coach, he told me to keep shooting. He said that’s what I was recruited for, so that’s my job: to shoot the ball and try to do other things,” Hairston said. “I tried to shoot myself out of the slump. Finally in the Florida State game, I kind of did that and it felt a lot better.”
Without Hairston’s performance in the Florida State game, the Tar Heels would have arguably been blown out by the Seminoles in the ACC Championship. Carolina got down by as many as 16 points and any time they made a run, Florida State answered.
But at the 15:30 mark, Hairston was subbed in. Carolina went down by 14 with 14:38 to go, and Hairston, quite simply, got hot.
When he drained the first three-pointer, he thought, “Okay, that’s a good shot.” Then he made his next one. He said to himself, “Okay, I’m feeling it a little bit.” Those three’s came within 59 seconds of each other and cut Florida State’s lead to eight points, just like that.
He missed his next three-pointer just 43 seconds later, but made his next try 52 seconds after that to cut FSU’s lead to seven points. He added two free throws at the 9:58 mark to cut FSU’s lead to five. He took a rest at the 8:41 mark, but he had nearly single-handedly gotten North Carolina back into the game.
During that 15-6 UNC run, he had 11 points.He had gone 69 days without an 11-point game. Suddenly, he had 11 points in a little less than six minutes. The last shot that would have tied the game ultimately went to him, and he missed from the top of the key. He was inconsolable. But Hairston felt that hot streak meant he was back to being himself.
“Once I started hitting shots, I started doing different things on the court and doing other things to try to help the team win,” Hairston said. “I definitely want to step up more and just try to contribute more to the team, not just shooting but taking charges, the things (Williams) likes us to do.”
But just because he had one good game towards the end of the year didn’t mean that Hairston was satisfied by any means. In the off-season, Williams hired Hubert Davis as an assistant coach (Davis was the best three-point shooter in Carolina basketball history, making 43.5% in his career).
Davis watched Hairston take a few three-pointers. He saw that the rising sophomore was kicking his leg out on nearly every attempt and sometimes letting his elbow flop out as well. Davis sat Hairston down and told him what he needed to do. It wasn’t an overhaul of his shooting form, but more like minor tweaks here and there: tighter elbow, no leg-kick, hold the follow-through.
“He told me ‘To be a good shooter, you have to do this, you have to do that’. It was just like having another class,” Hairston said. “He was teaching me everything I needed to do. Once I got the mechanics down, I stopped kicking my foot out more. I’ve been going straight up and down and the shot’s been falling. So apparently he’s right. I’m just going to keep taking his advice and hopefully it carries over to the season.”
Davis gave Hairston a tape of all the shots he had made last season to see what went right. Then he gave them a tape of the ones he missed “which was a lot”, Hairston quipped. He found what Davis said was true: on most of his misses, he was kicking his foot out or his elbow was too far out.
Just watching it made me think, ‘Okay, I can hit shots. It’s just up to me to do it and to do it right.’
Davis was a great shooter both in college and in the NBA, where he made 44.1% of his three’s in a 12-year professional career. So he certainly has credibility with Hairston. But the sophomore was 11 when Davis played his final NBA season, so he still hasn’t seen any highlights of Davis’ trademark shooting stroke.
“I’ve seen him around the gym working out the guys and he’s shooting. I can tell he still has his stroke,” Hairston said. “But I haven’t watched any clips on him, but that’s a good idea. I think I might do that.”
And like any good shooter, he’s still brimming with confidence. When asked if he thought who would win a shooting contest between he and one of the best shooters ever, he hesitated perhaps slightly longer than he would before taking a three-pointer: “I think I would win.”
The words “NC State basketball” and “prohibitive favorite” haven’t often been said together in the last few decades. NC State fans, who have been disappointed by preseason promise before, are cautiously optimistic at best, downright skeptical at worst. NC State second-year head coach Mark Gottfried said that people around Raleigh have approached him to say, “Coach, we had a great year last year.” Despite the Sweet 16 finish, Gottfried knows that a 24-13 record (9-7 against a much easier ACC slate than this year’s) wasn’t a great year.
“We had a really fun finish, and it was exceptional for our group. But our year wasn’t great. We were just okay,” Gottfried said, citing early season non-conference losses to Indiana and Syracuse, missed opportunities to beat ranked teams. Eight of NC State’s 13 losses were to teams that finished the year ranked. “I just think in general, we have to take another step, our program does. That step has to take place before all this, the anticipation, the expectations, there’s a process that has to take place and we’re still in it.”
Gottfried’s biggest reason for caution was the loss of valuable role players like starter C.J. Williams, backup point guard Alex Johnson and backup big man DeShawn Painter. But NC State is bringing in a top-10 recruiting class this season – part of the reason for the unbridled optimism. NC State is also returning four of its five starters (also last year’s four leading scorers).
For the most part last year, NC State beat who it should have and hung tough against top-25 teams. Still, NC State had some head-scratching losses last season (at home to Georgia Tech, at Clemson) to bottom-feeder ACC teams. Last year, NC State only played Florida State and Duke once each. This year, they’ll face all three of the likely top teams – North Carolina, FSU and Duke – twice.
“Real simply, they’ve got to be able to understand that to be a great team – which they want to be a great team – that the price is high,” Gottfried said. “That’s not something we paid much attention to last year, so it’s not something we’re going to pay attention to this year, regardless of where you’re picked. The only thing that counts is how hard you work each day and how well you do your job each day. Now, can our players truly grasp that? We’ll find out.”
But Gottfried has embraced the fun of the college basketball hotbed of Tobacco Road. Gottfried’s last head coaching job was at Alabama, where he said only “close family and friends” showed up for most of his press conferences. NC State’s media day featured at least 15 media members hanging on his every word, questioning him for nearly 30 minutes. Duke and Carolina are always expected to finish in the top three of the league. It’s been a long time since NC State was, too.
“I read the paper. I don’t live under a rock. I’m normal. I watch TV and all that,” Gottfried said of the preseason hype. “I think all that is fun. But I’ve also been around long enough to realize that outside of that being some kind of fun jibber jabber, than after that, you’ve got to go play. We’ve got to work. I get it. It is fun to be a part of it.”
And the players, even the younger ones, aren’t necessarily buying in either. Freshman Rodney Purvis, NC State’s highest-ranked incoming recruit, said this without provocation: “There’s a lot of hype going around with us, but we haven’t really done anything yet.”
When asked if he’d rather be the favorite or the underdog, Purvis simply grinned. “I don’t care. I want whatever it is. I don’t care about whatever it is. I don’t care about none of it. I just want to play basketball. That’s it.”
Mason Plumlee could have easily entered the NBA Draft last April. The Draft Express website predicted he would have gone 12th overall. The agile, athletic and strong 6-11 big man can run the floor well, and showed last season that he’s capable of scoring with his back to the basket as opposed to on tip-ins and fastbreak dunks.
But under his weaknesses, Mike Schmitz of Draft Express wrote in his evaluation video: “shooting range, scoring prowess, consistency and lateral quickness.” Two of those – scoring prowess and consistency – have been the biggest knock on the talented Plumlee since he got to Duke.
Under consistency, Schmitz wrote: “Lacks a great feel for the game…Can disappear in games and isn’t always a consistent presence…Duke needs him to be a major factor….Can he be relied on as a No. 1 guy?” We’re about to find out. During head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s preseason press conference, he declared that Plumlee would be the key to Duke’s 2012-13 season.
“It’s his time to be the key guy. He’s the key guy. Ryan (Kelly) and Seth (Curry) are also key guys, but Mason is the key guy,” Krzyzewski said. “I love when a guy wants that. He owns it. … He’s not making predictions or anything – he’s just saying, ‘I’m going to be there for you and let’s see what the heck is going to happen.’
“I just think he’s one of the best players in the United States. He having that type of year will be key for us. i’m very anxious to see how that will turn out. I’m excited for him. … You’ve got to be in their moments. I’m anxious to be in his moment and see what it produces.”
High praise from one of the best basketball coaches of all time. When Plumlee made the decision to return to Duke for his senior year, though, he committed himself fully to the program. “I think that showed (Krzyzewski) that it was more than just talk. It was like, I’m back. I’m here. (Krzyzewski) was the one that really sat down and convinced me this is where I needed to be,” Plumlee said. “There’s more to be gained this year and we could do something special this year.”
Kelly, a fellow senior forward, has seen a different Plumlee in the off-season. “He’s definitely on a mission. There’s no question about it,” Kelly said. “He’s in the gym more than anybody else. That’s what you want out of a guy who could have been a first-round NBA draft pick. He came back and said, ‘We’ve all got something to prove.’”
Krzyzewski’s ability to adapt his offense each year depending on his personnel is well-known, and this year will be no different. Last year, Austin Rivers took the lion’s share of Duke’s shots. But he entered last year’s NBA draft, and someone will have to step up to fill that void. It will be a big change for Plumlee, who attempted ten or more shots in a game just nine times last season. He got to the foul line ten or more times just four times.
But Krzyzewski all but said this would be a more post-oriented offense, without a lot of the pick-and-roll types of sets that Duke has run so much of over the last few years. “I think we’re going to be more of a team that helps each other get shots. In the last 12 years, except when J.J. (Redick) was here, we’ve done a lot of stuff with the pick-and-roll or ball screen because we had breakdown guys,” Krzyzewski said. “We’re not really that type of team. I think we can score inside really well this year. The balance will be better.”
Plumlee shot 57.2% from the floor but attempted just 13.1% of Duke’s shots on the season (12.5% of the team’s shots in ACC play). That’s going to need to increase significantly, and Plumlee is going to need to be more assertive, too. To Krzyzewski and Plumlee’s teammates, that’s been the most encouraging part of Plumlee’s offseason development. Krzyzewski said that Plumlee was calling him often – “not texts or tweets…but actually voices” – to let him know how workouts were going.
“In the time I’ve been coaching, I’ve been lucky to have so many good players. The great ones are the ones who grab you and say, ‘Let’s do this together. I’ll do whatever you want me to do.’ You form a bond with those players,” Krzyzewski said. “I really love where he’s at. If we do something special this year, a big thing will be because of him. I don’t think that puts pressure on him. I think he wants that.”
His teammates read the news, too. They know how high Plumlee would have gone in last year’s draft. They respect his decision to come back, and his fellow seniors have fed off of Plumlee’s newfound intensity, and it has trickled down to the rest of the team. Last year’s Duke team got along with each other fine and played hard. But this year’s Duke team appears to already have something extra behind it, a little bit more energy, a little bit more of an edge.
“(Plumlee) ready to take on that role and you can definitely see it in the workouts, in the weight room. He just attacks everything. HIm, Seth and Ryan really have assumed that leadership role that we need with our seniors and everybody else has pretty much followed,” Tyler Thornton said. “You can just feel the energy in the gym and we just feed off those guys. We really want to do something special for those guys because they put in a great amount of work in the past three years. We just want to have fun for them their senior year.”