UNC vs. Duke: Who has the edge

acarter@newsobserver.comNovember 29, 2013 

When: Noon

Where: Kenan Stadium, Chapel Hill

TV/Radio: ESPN2, WCHL-97.9, WTKK-106.1, WDNC-620, WKIX-102.9

When Duke has the ball

Duke passing offense vs. UNC pass defense

The Blue Devils have used a two-quarterback system with success this season, but neither Anthony Boone nor Brandon Connette are best known for their ability to break down a defense with their passing ability. Duke’s passing offense ranks a pedestrian 57th nationally, but it looked sharp last week in the win at Wake Forest. Jamison Crowder (89 catches for 1,077 yards) is Duke’s most prolific receiver by far. UNC’s passing defense has learned from its early-season struggles, and a big part of that is the pressure the Tar Heels are generating up front. They have 12 sacks in their past three games.

Edge: Even

Duke rushing offense vs. UNC rushing defense

The Blue Devils have used three running backs – Jela Duncan, Josh Snead and Shaq Powell – with success, and all of them are averaging more than 5 yards per carry. Duncan is the most talented of the threesome, and is likely to receive the most work. The Blue Devils generated 358 yards rushing during the victory against Miami but weren’t nearly as effective on the ground last week at Wake Forest. Both of the Blue Devils’ quarterbacks, Boone and Connette, are effective runners, too. UNC has improved against the run, but Duke – based off that Miami game that’s still fresh – appears to be hitting its stride.

Edge: Duke

When UNC has the ball

UNC passing game vs. Duke pass defense

The more mobile Marquise Williams is a better fit for Larry Fedora’s offense, but Williams isn’t the passer that Bryn Renner is. UNC’s passing offense hasn’t been as effective, overall, since Renner’s season-ending injury on Nov. 2 at N.C. State, though perhaps Williams figured some things out last week when he threw for 409 yards and five touchdowns against Old Dominion. Duke’s secondary has made some big plays this season, but the Blue Devils are still prone to giving up a lot of yards. UNC’s receiving corps – featuring Eric Ebron, Quinshad Davis, Ryan Switzer and others – will test Duke’s secondary, which is young in places.

Edge: UNC

UNC rushing offense vs. Duke rushing defense

The Tar Heels have been waiting all season for a running back to emerge, and it really hasn’t happened yet – T.J. Logan’s 137-yard, three-touchdown performance last week notwithstanding. Still, UNC’s rushing offense has been much improved since Williams became the full-time starting quarterback. He adds a dimension the offense didn’t have when Renner started. The Blue Devils, meanwhile, held four of their past five opponents to an average of fewer than 4 yards per carry. Duke has allowed two rushing touchdowns in the past month.

Edge: Duke

Special teams

Duke and UNC both rank among the top 25 teams nationally in kickoff returns, and the teams are similarly among the top 25 or 30 nationally in punting and field goal accuracy, as well. The difference between the teams is Ryan Switzer, the UNC freshman who leads the nation with four punt returns for touchdowns. Switzer is the primary reason why the Tar Heels lead the nation in punt return yardage per game (41.5). He’s a difference maker who must be accounted for.

Edge: UNC

Intangibles

The stakes are high for both teams. UNC, after a 1-5 start, is playing for its sixth consecutive victory – one that would guarantee the Tar Heels a winning record. UNC is also motivated by its loss last season against Duke, which snapped an eight-game losing streak against the Tar Heels and was just the second win against North Carolina since 1990. The Blue Devils have more to play for. A victory would give them the outright Coastal Division championship, and send them to the ACC championship game next week in Charlotte against Florida State.

Edge: Duke

Andrew Carter

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