Late Hits: Depth is taking Wolfpack down

jgiglio@newsobserver.comNovember 3, 2013 

  • Mack Brown Cup standings

    GPWPts
    ECU112
    Wake Forest111
    Duke000
    UNC210
    N.C. State20-3

    Note: 2 points for road win, 1 home win, -1 road loss, -2 home loss

    Results

    Sept. 28: ECU 55, UNC 31

    Oct. 5: Wake Forest 28, N.C. State 10

    Nov. 2: UNC 27, N.C. State 19

    Games left

    Saturday: N.C. State at Duke

    Nov. 23: ECU at N.C. State, Duke at Wake Forest

    Nov. 30: Duke at UNC

    Duke has the best shot at the state title, its second in as many years, because it can get to five points with wins over State, Wake and UNC. ECU can only get a maximum of four points.

    UNC still could win the MBC but would need help from State against ECU and Duke. Safest bet: The Duke-Carolina game will decide the MBC Cup, either for Duke or ECU.

  • More information

    Duke: The Blue Devils’ dream season continues to get better, even when they’re not playing.

    Duke’s next three opponents – N.C. State (receiver Bryan Underwood), Miami (running back Duke Johnson) and Wake Forest (receiver Michael Campanaro) – lost their best offensive player to a season-ending injury this week.

    Suddenly, there’s no reason Duke (6-2) can’t match, or surpass, the school record for wins (nine), which was last done in 1941.

    Virginia Tech: Remember, kids, always go with your first answer. I knew Virginia Tech was in a slide to mediocrity but was temporarily fooled by their six-game winning streak. Back-to-back losses to Duke and Boston College have sunk the Hokies’ season.

    The only question left is will they take the rest of the Coastal Division down with them?

    Florida State: If the projected BCS math is correct, the Seminoles can win the next four games by an average of 50 points, and it won’t matter unless Alabama or Oregon lose.

    FSU coach Jimbo Fisher rightfully got on the stump after Saturday’s 41-14 win over Miami.

    “We played the No. 7 team in the country and we won by 27,” Fisher said. “That’s a very good football team. We’re just going to keep playing well and let people judge. This is a heck of a football team here.”

    Fisher has the best team in the country, in my opinion, but how did Nevada, Bethune-Cookman and Idaho end up on the schedule? That’s what will likely keep FSU out of the title game unless Oregon stumbles.

    Wake Forest: The Deacons could not afford to lose receiver Michael Campanaro, who was knocked out of Saturday’s 13-0 loss at Syracuse with a broken collarbone.

    Without Campanaro, getting two more wins to get into a bowl game will be nearly impossible. The Deacs (4-5) put up an average of 31 points in wins over N.C. State and Maryland but were held scoreless against the Orange.

    Even worse: Up next is FSU.

• N.C. State’s loss to UNC was easier to understand, and predict, than earlier ACC losses to Wake Forest or Syracuse.

On the personnel front, State had no margin for error when the season began on the offensive line and at safety. The Wolfpack has been without its left tackle (senior Rob Crisp) since the third game and its free safety (senior Jarvis Byrd) since the second half of the Wake loss.

Throw in the season-ending injury to receiver Bryan Underwood (broken collarbone) and the Wolfpack is running uphill, on ice, in slippers. A 3-9 record and winless ACC season, the school’s first since 1959, is suddenly a realistic scenario for first-year coach Dave Doeren.

The injuries don’t excuse Doeren’s overzealous fake punt call in the first quarter Saturday, or the inability to exploit what is undeniably a weak UNC defense, but it’s the reality of where the State program is.

One play to consider, if you think otherwise. Rashard Smith, who hasn’t been 100 percent since he sprained his right knee against Wake Forest on Oct. 5, had a seam on a 23-yard punt return in the third quarter. If he’s healthy, Smith probably takes the punt to the house, which as we’ve seen in this series has a way of deciding the game (UNC led 21-19 at the time of the play).

Instead, he was tripped up at the UNC 49 and Brandon Mitchell threw an interception two plays later.

• The win puts North Carolina (3-5) back on track for a bowl game. The Tar Heels’ run defense is still an unqualified disaster (Mitchell ran for 105 yards, Shadrach Thornton added 90), but of the next three opponents, Pitt is the only one that likely can exploit UNC’s weakness for a win.

The Heels need to win three of four to get back to a bowl game. That’s at least a realistic opportunity, which says a lot for Larry Fedora after a 1-5 start.

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