College football previews: UNC, Wake game has ACC title-game trip on line; Wolfpack looks for 17th straight home

Published 10:35 pm Thursday, November 10, 2022

By Aaron Beard

AP Sports Writer

WINSTON-SALEM — North Carolina has finally figured out how to win on the road. That has the 15th-ranked Tar Heels a win away from clinching a trip to the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game.

UNC visits Wake Forest on Saturday night in the renewal of a long-running series that has included wild comebacks and video-game scores the past two seasons. This time, the Tar Heels (8-1, 5-0 ACC) arrive with a 5-0 record in road games after going 0-5 last year and can clinch the league’s Coastal Division title.

“These guys have completely changed that narrative,” coach Mack Brown said.

The Tar Heels won at Appalachian State and Georgia State, followed by league wins at Miami, Duke and Virginia.

“I told the guys again this morning: it’s fun to be playing for something really important in November,” Brown said. “Give them credit for that. … I told them, ‘You need to enjoy this, you need to enjoy this ride.”

The Demon Deacons (6-3, 2-3) were ranked in the top 10 of the AP Top 25 two weeks ago before losses at Louisville and No. 17 North Carolina State knocked them out of the poll, ending a run of 22 straight weeks.

It isn’t hard to figure out why: the team that has found sustained success through avoiding self-inflicted mistakes like penalties and turnovers has lost 11 turnovers in the past two games.

“When we follow our process and we follow our plan to win, usually we win games,” coach Dave Clawson said. “And the result of that is that we become a nationally ranked team. …. We’ve turned it over 11 times in two weeks. And so we’re not ranked right now because we’re turning the football over. If we want to get ranked again, we’d better stop turning the football over.”

QB BATTLE

This is a marquee matchup of quarterbacks with UNC’s Drake Maye and Wake Forest’s Sam Hartman.

“Probably why (ESPN2) picked this one out,” Clawson said.

Maye is a second-year passer who leads the Bowl Subdivision ranks with 31 touchdown throws. He’s also third by throwing for 329.3 yards per game, and has thrown just three interceptions in 312 attempts — a rate of 1%.

Hartman, a fifth-year veteran, is tied for ninth in FBS with 24 touchdown passes and rankes 13th by averaging 302.9 yards passing. His 96 career TD passes trail only Clemson’s Tajh Boyd (107) on the ACC’s career list.

Hartman has thrown for 827 yards and nine touchdowns with two interceptions in the last two games against UNC to go with three rushing touchdowns.

WILD NUMBERS

It’s hard to state just how wild the last two meetings have been, both won by UNC at home by similar scores.

In 2020, the Tar Heels rallied from 21 down (45-24) in the third quarter to win 59-53, with Sam Howell throwing for program records of 550 yards and six touchdowns.

Then last year, the Demon Deacons brought a No. 10 ranking and unbeaten record into Chapel Hill, then built an 18-point third-quarter lead (45-27). The Tar Heels rallied again, this time behind a big rushing game from Ty Chandler on the way to a 58-55 win.

“I still have tremors from the games the last two years,” Clawson said. “We have not, the last two years, finished games against them.”

HOME SUCCESS

Wake Forest is 19-3 at home since 2019, with the only losses coming to Louisville in 2019 and twice to Clemson. The latter includes this year’s double-overtime thriller, won by the Tigers 51-45 despite Hartman’s six touchdown passes.

SACK WATCH

The Tar Heels have ranked among worst defenses in FBS, though they have been better in scoring defense (24.2 points allowed per game) in ACC play. The question is whether that unit can get any pressure on Hartman up front.

That was a key factor in the Demon Deacons’ past two losses, with Louisville tallying eight sacks and N.C. State adding four more. Wake Forest scored 21 points in each game after scoring 31+ in their first seven.

UNC is tied for 106th in FBS with 14 sacks (1.56 per game).

DIVISION SHOT

UNC’s 5-0 start in league play is its best since going 8-0 in the regular season in 2015, which marked the only time the Tar Heels have reached the ACC championship game.

FACTS & FIGURES: UNC has won the past two meetings by similar scores with huge comebacks at home. In 2020, the Tar Heels rallied from 21 down (45-24) in the third quarter to win 59-53. Last year, they trailed by 18 (45-27) in the third before winning 58-55. … Hartman is second in ACC history with 96 career touchdown passes, trailing only Clemson’s Tajh Boyd (107). … Wake Forest has surrendered 12 sacks in the Louisville and N.C. State losses. … UNC last won its first five road games in a season in 1997. … The Tar Heels are 5-0 in the league for the first time since going 8-0 to earn its only trip to the ACC title game in 2015. … Wake Forest is 19-3 at home since the start of the 2019 season.

No. 15 North Carolina (8-1, 5-0 ACC) at Wake Forest (6-3, 2-3)

Saturday, 7:30 p.m.  (ESPN2)

FANDUEL SPORTSBOOK COLLEGE LINE: Wake Forest by 31/2.

Series record: UNC leads 71-36-2.

No. 17 NC State chases record 17th straight home win vs. BC

RALEIGH — North Carolina State is thriving on its home field. Now the 17th-ranked Wolfpack will host Boston College on Saturday with a chance to set a new program record for consecutive home wins.

N.C. State (7-2, 3-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) has won 16 straight games at Carter-Finley Stadium dating to a 2020 loss to Miami. That is tied for the program record set from 1972-75 under Lou Holtz.

Coach Dave Doeren has repeatedly noted the value of a rowdy home atmosphere this season. It mattered in last weekend’s win against then-ranked Wake Forest.

The Demon Deacons have long been successful in avoiding self-inflicted mistakes like penalties. But they were flagged five times for false starts and surrendered four sacks while dealing with a talented veteran defense backed by a loud crowd, a factor coach Dave Clawson cited this week.

“When the fans are cheering loudly in a positive fashion for their team, just understand what that does to the psyche of a young person,” Doeren said. It’s awesome for our team to have that kind of backing.”

The fact the Wolfpack even reached this point is a testament to the team’s resilience, both in handling the loss of preseason league player of the year Devin Leary to a season-ending injury and in regrouping from big second-half deficits. N.C. State rallied from double-figure deficits in the third quarter last month to beat Florida State (17-3) and Virginia Tech (21-3), the latter being led by first-year passer MJ Morris.

Boston College (2-7, 1-5) arrives having lost four straight games overall and all four of its road games this season, with each of the road losses coming by at least 10 points. The Eagles also have yet to score more than 15 points on the road this year.

“Our attitudes are great,” BC coach Jeff Hafley said. “We’re going to go compete our butts off, and I know that. I’m excited about it.”

QB QUESTION

BC QB Phil Jurkovec missed last week’s loss to Duke due to injury. Second-year passer Emmett Morehead got the start and threw for 330 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions.

Hafley said Jurkovec wasn’t practicing earlier this week. “Will we get him back? I’m not sure, but that’s where we’re at right now,” Hafley said.

MORRIS’ PLAY

With the Wake Forest game, Morris became the Wolfpack’s first true freshman starter at QB since Philip Rivers in 2000. He has responded with composure in leading the Virginia Tech comeback and then against the Demon Deacons.

Morris has thrown six touchdown passes with no interceptions in his last two outings.

“We’re excited about what he’s doing, but at the same time, I think setting him up (well) is important,” Doeren said. “What does he do best, where is he most confident? And to be honest, it’s no different than when you have a three-year starter. You still want to do what the guy feels most confident with.”

RELIABLE

Christopher Dunn has ensured N.C. State’s stalled drives still net points.

Dunn has made all 18 of his field goals and 24 of his extra-point kicks, making him one of five kickers nationally yet to miss. He kicked three field goals against Wake Forest, including a 51-yarder in the 30-21 win.

DEFENSIVE STRENGTH

N.C. State’s defense has led the way all season, but especially in locking down Florida State after halftime in that comeback win and in keeping the pressure on Wake Forest star quarterback Sam Hartman last week.

That unit is surrendering a league-low 17.8 points per game and faces an offense ranked 12th in the league in scoring (18.8).

STANDOUT

Whoever starts at QB for the Eagles will have a top target in Zay Flowers, who is tied for the ACC lead with eight touchdown catches this year.

The fourth-year receiver has three 100-yard games this season, highlighted by a 151-yard, two-score effort in a loss to Louisville. He is 12th in the Bowl Subdivision ranks with 6.7 grabs per game and is in the top 20 in receiving yards (87.9).

Boston College (2-7, 1-5 ACC) at No. 17 North Carolina State (7-2, 3-2), Saturday, 3:30 p.m.  (ACC Network)

FANDUEL SPORTSBOOK COLLEGE LINE: N.C. State by 191/2.

Series record: BC leads 10-8.

WHAT’S AT STAKE?

N.C. State has built some momentum with a first-year passer in MJ Morris, who has stabilized the quarterback position after the season-ending injury to preseason league player of the year Devin Leary. The Wolfpack will close the home schedule seeking a 17th straight win at Carter-Finley Stadium, which would set a program record. The Eagles are trying to break a four-game losing streak.

KEY MATCHUP

N.C. State’s defense vs. Boston College’s offense. The Wolfpack’s veteran unit played critical roles both in a comeback to beat Florida State and in last weekend’s win against Wake Forest. The unit is surrendering a league-low 17.8 points and is third at 320.3 yards per game. It will represent a challenge for an Eagles offense ranked 12th in the league in scoring (18.8) and 13th in total offense (320.1).

PLAYERS TO WATCH

BC: WR Zay Flowers. He had two TD grabs in last week’s loss to Duke and is tied for the ACC lead with eight touchdown catches.

N.C. State: WR Darryl Jones. The Maryland graduate transfer came through with a pair of touchdown catches against Wake Forest, providing a glimpse of the receiver play the Wolfpack hadn’t seen earlier this year.

FACTS & FIGURES

N.C. State’s 16-game home winning streak has tied the previous mark set from 1972-75 under Lou Holtz. … Morris threw for three touchdowns in his first start against Wake Forest, marking the first time the program had a true freshman start at QB since Philip Rivers in 2000. … N.C. State has been in the AP Top 25 for 17 straight polls for the longest run in program history. … Second-year BC quarterback Emmett Morehead threw for 330 yards and four touchdowns in the Duke loss. He played with Phil Jurkovec sidelined by injury. … Morehead became the only BC quarterback since Doug Flutie (1981) to throw four TD passes in his first career start. … Boston College’s last victory came Oct. 1 against Louisville (34-33).

Duke looks for win No. 7 when
it hosts Virginia Tech

Duke hosts Virginia Tech on Saturday seeking a seventh win. The Blue Devils became bowl-eligible with last week’s win against Boston College. Another win under first-year coach Mike Elko would mark the program’s first season with at least seven wins since 2017.

Duke had won just five total games over the 2020 and 2021 seasons.

The Hokies have lost six straight games under first-year coach Brent Pry. That hadn’t happened since 1987 before this season. Duke hasn’t beaten Virginia Tech at home since 1981. The Hokies have won five of the past six mieetings.

Virginia Tech (2-7, 1-5 ACC) at Duke (6-3, 3-2), Saturday, noon (RSN)

FANDUEL SPORTSBOOK COLLEGE LINE: Duke by 91/2.

Series record: Virginia Tech leads 19-10.

WHAT’S AT STAKE?

The Blue Devils secured bowl eligibility last week against Boston College under first-year coach Mike Elko, a strong start to his tenure after two years of struggle. Another win would mark the program’s first season of at least seven wins since 2017 after winning just five games in 2020 and 2021. The Hokies have lost six straight games under first-year coach Brent Pry.

KEY MATCHUP

Virginia Tech’s offense against Duke’s defense. The Hokies rank last in the league in total offense (316.7) and 11th in scoring (20.2). They have scored scored 14 or fewer points in three of their five league losses and have yet to reach 30 points in a game. Duke’s defense has surrendered yards (12th in ACC at 394.1 per game) but ranks in the middle of the league in scoring defense (23.1).

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Virginia Tech: QB Grant Wells. He has thrown eight touchdown passes with eight interceptions and has failed to reach 200 yards passing in six games.

Duke: DT DeWayne Carter. Carter is tied for second nationally with three forced fumbles and tied for fifth with three fumble recoveries.

FACTS & FIGURES: Before this year, the Hokies hadn’t lost six games in a row since 1987. … Duke is ranked third nationally in turnover margin (plus-1.56) after going minus-26 over the previous two seasons. … The Blue Devils had lost 13 straight league games before this year. … Duke hasn’t beaten Virginia Tech at home since 1981. The Hokies have won five of six meetings, with the Blue Devils winning 45-10 in Blacksburg in 2019. … The Blue Devils’ road wins in 2013, 2015 and 2019 are their only ones in the series since the Hokies joined the ACC in 2004.

Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap

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