Saturday, December 15, 2012

N.C. State to retain 'Des' Kitchings as RB coach

N.C. State coach Dave Doeren has announced that Desmond "Des" Kitchings will remain on the Wolfpack staff as running backs coach.

Kitchings coached running backs and tight ends for the Wolfpack in 2012.

"I've gotten to know him in the last 10 days and am really impressed with his work ethic, his attitude and the way he works with the players," Doeren said in a statement. "The players have had nothing but great things to say about him as a teacher and a motivator.

"On the recruiting trail, I've been impressed with how he relates to the high school coaches. He has an impressive coaching background. The coaches he worked with at Air Force and Vanderbilt had great things to say about him. It's also good to have a South Carolina native on our staff to help us with recruiting in that area."

In his first season at NCSU, Kitchings coached both running backs and tight ends. Under his guidance, freshman Shadrach Thornton finished the regular season ranked fifth in the ACC in rushing despite not playing in the Pack's first three games.

Kitchings spent the 2011 season as the running game coordinator/running backs coach at the Air Force Academy. Air Force ranked third nationally in rushing that season, averaging 314.8 yard per game.

- Chip Alexander

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

UNC AD Bubba Cunningham: We want the ACC to be our home for another 60 years

Amid rumors that North Carolina might be interested in leaving the ACC to join another conference, Bubba Cunningham, the UNC athletic director, emailed a letter today to UNC supporters that reaffirmed the university’s commitment to the ACC.

In the days since Maryland announced it would leave the ACC to join the Big Ten, Cunningham has received correspondence from UNC fans who have expressed concern about the Tar Heels’ affiliation with the ACC. Further, some national media members have speculated whether UNC would be interested in another conference.

In his letter, Cunningham dismissed such speculation. Here are his words:

Thank you for your recent correspondence regarding conference affiliation for the University of North Carolina. Conference alignment is a topic of much discussion nationally these days and we understand that our fans are passionate and knowledgeable of their sports programs.

Carolina is a charter member of the Atlantic Coast Conference and we believe the ACC is the finest conference in the nation. The ACC has been our home for nearly 60 years and we want it to be our home for another 60 years at least. Our speculating on what other league may be better for the Tar Heels would not be productive. We are part of a great league with a strong future and we know that the ACC leadership is serious in its efforts to strengthen the conference and position it for long-term success.

All of us in the ACC, including the league office and individual schools, continue to carefully monitor the changes that take place in conference alignment. But again, we are proud members of a great league and are looking forward to many more years of success in the ACC by the Tar Heels and other ACC schools.

Bubba Cunningham

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Despite hot start, UNC trails Maryland 28-21 at half

CHAPEL HILL - After North Carolina scored touchdowns on two of first six offensive plays early in the first quarter against Maryland, the Tar Heels appeared headed for a blowout victory. But now it's the Heels who appear lost.

Since UNC's two early touchdowns, Maryland has mostly controlled the game and holds a 28-21 lead at halftime.

It took less than a minute late in the half for the Terrapins to tie the game and take the lead, and send the Tar Heels off the field to a chorus of boos on senior day.

First, Maryland used a trick play to tie the game at 21. Stefon Diggs, the Terps' freshman receiver, went in motion and caught the ball on a pitch. He passed to Matt Furstenburg, who was open in the end zone, for an 8-yard touchdown.

Romar Morris returned the ensuing kickoff 11 yards before fumbling, and Maryland's Anthony Nixon recovered at the UNC 28 with 13 seconds to play. The Terps needed just one play to take the lead, and did when Shawn Petty threw a 28-yard pass to Kevin Dorsey.

Maryland has scored more than 21 points just once since Sept. 8, but the Terps have more than that at halftime. Their 304 yards of offense are more than they've had each of their past three games.

The game changed after UNC took an early 14-0 lead. The Heels dominated the injury-depleted Terrapins early, and needed just three plays to score their first touchdown. That came on a 30-yard pass from Bryn Renner to Eric Ebron, who broke a couple of tackles and dove over the goal line for the score.

UNC scored its second touchdown a couple of minutes later after Petty, a former linebacker who became a quarterback after the Terrapins lost four other quarterbacks to injury, threw an interception.

Darien Rankin, the Tar Heels' safety, intercepted Petty's pass and returned it 43 yards to the Terrapins 3-yard line. A couple of plays later, Renner threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to Quinshad Davis, whose reception gave the Heels a 14-0 lead with 12:11 to play in the first quarter.

Maryland, though, persevered and played its way back into the game. After trading defensive stops, Maryland finished off a 10-play, 66-yard drive with Brandon Ross' 1-yard touchdown run.

UNC and Maryland traded another set of defensive stops before Ross set up the Terrapins next touchdown with a 71-yard run down the left sideline. After Ross' long run, Petty scored from two yards out to tie the game at 14 midway through the second quarter.

UNC took the lead on its next drive, when A.J. Blue's 12-yard touchdown reception punctuated a 12-play, 63-yard drive that lasted a little more than four minutes. But Maryland drove right back down the field and scored on that pass from Diggs, which set up the fumbled kickoff return that led to another touchdown.

Maryland has outgained UNC 304 yards to 206, and the Terrapins have gained 149 yards rushing - which would be their second highest total of the season if the game was over.

- Andrew Carter

Carter: 919-829-8944

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Shootout at Death Valley: Clemson leads N.C. State, 41-24, at half

CLEMSON, S.C. - The scoring has stopped, temporarily.

 In a spectacular offensive shootout, 11th-ranked Clemson has built a 41-24 halftime lead over N.C. State at Memorial Stadium.

 The two teams combined for 806 yards in the first half that ping-ponged back and forth with the teams trading the lead and touchdowns.

 Wolfpack quarterback Mike Glennon passed for 327 yards in the first half, completing 14 of 27 passes for three touchdowns but it wasn't enough for N.C. State.

  Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd completed 21 of 33 passes for 247 yards in the first half with 11 of the completions going to Sammy Watkins. The Tigers also rushed for 195 yards in the first half.

 It started as if Clemson was going to dominate the game as the Tigers built a 13-0 lead in the first seven minutes.

 Then the Wolfpack engaged.

 In two plays that took a combined 22 seconds, John Glennon threw touchdown passes of 77 and 49 yards to Tobias Palmer as the Wolfpack answered for a 14-13 lead. Until that point, Clemson had out-gained the Wolfpack 135 yards to three yards.

 Then the game turned into a scoring contest. The Wolfpack kept scoring, adding a touchdown pass from Glennon to Rashard Smith and a Niklas Sade field goal for a 24-13 lead early in the second quarter.

 Clemson responded with a pair of touchdowns, flipping the advantage in their favor with a 27-24 lead after a 27-yard touchdown pass from Boyd to Watkins.

-- Ron Green Jr.

Defense? Ga. Tech leads Duke 21-17 at half

ATLANTA - In a game largely absent of defense, Georgia Tech leads Duke 21-17 at halftime.

Each team had only one full possession that didn't result in points. Duke punted on the game's opening drive, and Georgia Tech punted on its final possession, which began with 53 seconds left on the clock. Duke did run one play at the end of the half, an incomplete pass.

The Yellow Jackets collected 196 rushing yards in the first half, many coming after contact due to poor Duke tackling. Georgia Tech amassed 243 yards of total offense in the first half. The Blue Devils totaled 154 yards of offense in the first half, 55 on the ground and 99 through the air. 

Georgia Tech opened the scoring with a signature ball-control touchdown drive, methodically moving 72 yards in 5:45 for a 7-0 lead. The Yellow Jackets extended the drive with a conversion of fourth-and-2 from midfield, with Orwin Smith taking a pitch 16 yards to the Duke 34-yard line.

Georgia Tech's first pass completion of the game was the other key play for the drive, as Tevin Washington found Smith, who had beat Lee Butler, for a 21-yard gain to the Duke 2-yard line. The Blue Devils defense stopped Washington twice, but he found the end zone from one yard out on third down to open the scoring.

Duke responded with a touchdown drive of its own that took 4:03 off the clock.

The key play of the drive came with Duke opted to go for it on fourth-and-2 from its own 42-yard line. Sean Renfree made the gamble pay off, though, with a 3-yard pass to Conner Vernon. After three more 1st downs thanks to a mix of runs and passes, Renfree found Desmond Scott all alone in the left corner of the end zone for a 24-yard touchdown. The Yellow Jackets ran a corner blitz, and no defender was within 10 yards of Scott.

The teams traded touchdowns again, with Duke responded thanks to a 43-yard kickoff return by Lee Butler, combined with a personal foul penalty against Georgia Tech, set Duke up on the Yellow Jackets' 28-yard line to start its third drive. Four plays later, Renfree kept the ball on a designed run, going nine yards up the middle for the Duke touchdown, tying the game at 14-14 with 12:40 remaining in the half.

The Yellow Jackets used their longest touchdown drive on the year (measured by the number of plays run) to retake the lead on its third drive. Facing fourth-and-2, Georgia Tech opted to try for the touchdown. Vad Lee, who took over for Washington, just got the ball across the goal line before his knee went down, making it 21-14 over Duke. That scoring drive took 8:03 off the clock as Georgia Tech ran 16 plays.

A 50-yard field goal from Ross Martin, the longest of his career, capped the scoring at 21-17.

- Laura Keeley

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Poll: Duke football more popular than NC State in North Carolina

In the spirit of Election Day, the Wall Street Journal decided to look at battleground states.

College football battleground states, that is.

North Carolina was one of the 15 states the Journal, with help from Public Policy Polling, chose to profile. The question was simple: which team do you prefer? There were five choices for North Carolina residents: the four ACC schools (Duke, UNC, NC State and Wake Forest) and East Carolina.

UNC was the clear favorite, getting 32 percent of the vote. In second, though, was Duke with 19 percent.

Yes, Duke football is more popular the N.C. State football, which came in third with 18 percent of the vote.

Now, this is surprising to me for a few reasons. One, Duke football, until this year, had not been relevant since its last bowl birth in 1994. The then-freshmen at Duke are now 35 years old. That was awhile ago, folks.

Second, Duke is a significantly smaller school than N.C. State--three times smaller, to be more precise. N.C. State enrolls 25,176 undergraduates, per its website, while Duke has 8,220. Naturally, that gives the Wolfpack a much larger alumni base and (in theory) many more potential fans. And then remember that most Duke graduates do not even settle in North Carolina, flocking to New York City and Washington, D.C. instead.

So, yeah, Duke football is more popular than NC State. How about that for an election-day surprise?

- Laura Keeley

Looming Miami decision could benefit Duke

Despite not playing this week, there is a chance that Duke's path to the ACC Championship game could become significantly clearer.

Miami may opt to self-impose a bowl ban for the second straight season, interim athletic director Blake James told Michael Casagrande of the South Florida Sun Sentinel after the Hurricane's win over Virginia Tech. Blake said he and University president Donna Shalala will make the decision and added that, "It's not a decision that we have to make right now."

"It's an institutional call, so it will be Donna and myself and consultation with the people we have involved with the NCAA case," James said.

Miami (5-4, 4-2 in the ACC) is in sole possession of first place in the Coastal. In fact, if Duke loses its Nov. 16 game at Georgia Tech, Miami could clinch its first-ever Coastal Division crown. If Duke wins, then there's a real chance that the final regular season game between the Hurricanes and the Blue Devils could be for the right to go to the championship game.

That is, if Miami is still eligible.

When the Hurricanes decided to self-impose a bowl ban last year, that decision didn't come until Nov. 21, the day after Miami won its sixth game. With that as a precedent, it wouldn't a huge surprise to see this decision drag on until late in the season.

Now, Miami was 6-6 last year, so the stakes were much lower than they are presently. For that reason, David Teel of the Newport News (Va.) Daily Press wrote that it would make little sense for the Hurricanes to self-impose this season. Both esteemed colleague Joe Giglio and yours truly voiced agreement with Teel via Twitter. But we shall see.

- Laura Keeley

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Duke coach David Cutcliffe won't talk to other schools during the season

Sunday, Kentucky announced that coach Joker Phillips will not be back next season. At 1-9 and coming off a 40-0 home loss to Vanderbilt in front of a mostly empty stadium, the Wildcats are a mess.

But they are an SEC team. And there's a certain football coach in Durham who is SEC born-and-bred.

Duke head coach David Cutcliffe was asked on his Sunday night conference call if he would talk to other schools about job openings during the season. He said no. Any requests to talk to him, though, would go through athletic director Kevin White, he said.

"I don’t intend or expect that to be happening," Cutcliffe added.

Cutcliffe's name isn't on an initial candidate list complied by Yahoo! Sports' Pat Forde. But, like I said a few weeks back, get used to Cutcliffe's name surfacing for some of these soon-to-be SEC openings.

- Laura Keeley

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Clemson crushing Duke 42-17 at half

DURHAM -- Duke has no answers for the Clemson offense. None.

And, as a result, the Tigers lead 42-17.

Quarterback Tahj Boyd threw five touchdown passes, tying a school record he set last week, in the game's first 25:31. DeAndre Hopkins caught three touchdown passes in the first quarter, setting a new school record for career touchdowns in the process. The Tigers ran nine plays for at least 21 yards in the first quarter alone and had 296 total yards of offense. By the half, it was 487 yards of total offense with 388 yards from Boyd--314 passing (14-of-19) and 74 rushing.

Duke coach David Cutcliffe said repeatedly this week that Clemson would connect on a few big plays--that was inevitable. But the Tigers had at least one big play on nearly every drive. Most drives ended with Boyd burning Duke's secondary with long touchdown passes, even if said defenders were in decent possession.

Hopkins came down with his first touchdown pass on a 5-yard fade to the left corner of the end zone over Duke cornerback Lee Butler, who was also beat for Clemson's fourth and fifth scores. That initial score was set up by a third-and-11 conversion from Boyd to Jaron Brown in between Jordon Byas and Tony Foster for 34 yards.

Clemson was 4-for-4 on third downs in the first half.

Hopkins scored his second touchdown a 58-yard pass from Boyd Duke cornerback Ross Cockrell was right there on Hopkins, but he mistimed his jump and Hopkins caught the perfectly thrown pass. That touchdown was the 21st of Hopkins career and set a new school record.

Duke did find holes in the Clemson pass defense. Sean Renfree had three pass completions of at least 10 yards on Duke's first possession, which ended with a 46-yard Ross Martin field goal. And on Duke's next offensive drive, Renfree found Crowder for a 77-yard touchdown in which he beat and outran Clemson cornerback Xavier Brewer. That was the longest play the Tigers' defense had given up all year, and it was the longest pass and catch for Renfree and Crowder, respectively.

Crowder caught four catches for 139 yards in the first half. But he had a crucial third-down drop in the second quarter after Duke safety Walt Canty had stolen a possession by stripping Hopkins of the ball (after a 22-yard pass completion).

Canty later intercepted a Boyd pass as well, but that drive, too, ended in a punt.

Clemson, meanwhile, did not punt in the first half.

Duke did find holes in the Clemson pass defense, as the Blue Devils collected 206 yards through the air in the opening half. But that paled in comparison to the Tigers' aerial attack.

- Laura Keeley

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Where UNC stands in the ACC's Coastal Division race

CHAPEL HILL -- Now we know that North Carolina can't represent the Coastal Division in the ACC championship game. We also know that even if the Tar Heels finish first in the Coastal, the league won't recognize them as the official divisional champion.

Which is too bad, because entering the final month of the season UNC is - or would have been, I suppose - in a good position to win the division. With four weekends left in the regular season, the Coastal is wide open. Five teams, including UNC, are within a game of one another in the league standings.

Here's a look at those standings:

Duke - 3-2, 2-1
North Carolina - 3-2, 2-1
Miami - 3-2, 1-1
Virginia Tech - 2-2, 2-1
Georgia Tech - 2-3, 1-2

And here's a look at the remaining ACC schedules for each of those five teams, with the conference records for opponents in parentheses:

Clemson (4-1)
at Georgia Tech (2-3)
Miami (3-2)
Combined ACC record of remaining opponents: 9-6

North Carolina
Georgia Tech (2-3)
at Virginia (0-4)
Maryland (2-2)
Combined ACC record of remaining opponents: 4-9

Virginia Tech (2-2)
at Virginia (0-4)
at Duke (3-2)
Combined ACC record of remaining opponents: 5-8

Virginia Tech
at Miami (3-2)
Florida State (5-1)
at Boston College (1-4)
Virginia (0-4)
Combined ACC record of remaining opponents: 9-11

Georgia Tech
at Maryland (2-2)
at North Carolina (3-2)
Duke (3-2)
Combined ACC record of remaining opponents: 8-6

Judging by the remaining schedules, Duke has the most difficult road ahead, followed by Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, Miami and UNC. The Tar Heels are likely to be the only Coastal Division team favored in all of their remaining conference games.

Here's my guess at how the conference race finishes ...

Duke - loses to both Clemson and Miami but beats Georgia Tech to finish 4-4.
UNC - loses to either Georgia Tech or Virginia but beats Maryland to finish 5-3.
Miami - loses to Virginia Tech but beats Virginia and Duke to finish 5-3.
Virginia Tech - loses to Florida State but beats Miami, Boston College and Virginia to finish 5-3
Georgia Tech - beats either Maryland or UNC but loses to Duke to finish 4-4.

So that would leave UNC, Miami and Virginia Tech all tied at 5-3. And, of course, the Tar Heels beat both the Hurricanes and Hokies, which means that UNC - if it were eligible - would go to Charlotte to play for the conference championship.

The unknown in all this is how the Tar Heels will handle the fact that they can't play in the postseason. Motivation hasn't been a problem all season for UNC but it's fair to wonder if it will become an issue entering the final month. Especially given the Heels just played - and won - their most important game.

-- Andrew Carter

Duke coach David Cutcliffe on the "state championship" and possibility of playing N.C. State

DURHAM -- In his weekly Tuesday press conference, head coach David Cutcliffe was asked about the possibility of playing N.C. State every year. Since the two are in different divisions and not permanent crossover rivals, they only play home-and-home series on occasion (the two most recently met in 2008 and 2009, and, before that, 2000 and 2001). So, naturally, most years the game would have  to be a "non-conference game."

Cutcliffe isn't interested.

"No, I wouldn't do that," he said. "If we're going to play an ACC team, we're going to make it count. I know what people are saying. You can't have your cake and eat it, too. You've got to have rotators. I went through that in the SEC, you make decisions on who your permanent rival is on the cross side of things, and even getting into the economics for the rest of the conference, if all the sudden we're playing every year at NC State, Carolina and Wake and they are doing the same thing, the rest of them will say, 'hey, y'all are just taking a short bus ride. We're flying all over the place.'

"There's a lot of problems with that. It's not just, 'hey, we ought to be playing every year.' There's a lot of things involved beyond what people think about in that circumstance."

So, it's nothing against the Wolfpack in particular. The question of playing NC State came up in a conversation about the "state championship" (a preseason goal touted by UNC's Larry Fedora in a year when his team, ineligible for a bowl, had little else to aim for achieving).  Duke wins the mythical state championship with a 2-0 record over the Tar Heels and Wake Forest. UNC finished 1-2 with losses to Duke and the Demon Deacons, and NC State and Wake Forest are both 1-1 but will play each other Nov. 10.

When asked if he planned to put up a billboard commemorating the title (NC State put up "Our State" billboards around the Triangle this fall), Cutcliffe laughed.

"I hadn't gotten that far," he said. "We might have to have a croquet match amongst the coaches to decide that. I'm proud of what we've done in in-state games. Really, in all seriousness, I hadn't thought about it and haven't seen those billboards."

-- Laura Keeley

Monday, October 29, 2012

Knee injury ends N.C. State RB James Washington's college career

The injury to N.C. State running back James Washington looked serious when it happened Saturday. N.C. State coach Tom O'Brien confirmed the worst on Monday.

Washington's college career is over after tearing the ligaments in his right knee in the third quarter of the Wolfpack's loss to North Carolina.

Washington, a senior, led the team in rushing in 2011 with 897 yards and had 42 catches for 315 yards. An ankle injury cost him three games this season. He finished this season with 77 yards on 27 carries and one touchdown. He also had eight catches for 58 yards.

"I feel so bad for the kid," O'Brien said. "It was his last year and he came back and gave us a spurt there. He looked really good playing in the game and it was something we could use coming down the stretch. I know it's devastating for him."

UNC corner Terry Shankle tackled Washington with 1:13 left in the third quarter on a short pass attempt from Mike Glennon. Washington had to be helped off the field and was in obvious pain. He rushed for 14 yards, on six carries, in Saturday's loss.

Washington's injury is the second hit to N.C. State's depth at running back in as many weeks. O'Brien kicked Mustafa Greene off the team for disciplinary reasons before the Maryland game on Oct. 20.

- Joe Giglio

Rewind: N.C. State at UNC

CHAPEL HILL — North Carolina’s rousing 43-35 victory against N.C. State on Saturday at Kenan Stadium will take its place as one of the great games in the 102-game history of the rivalry. A look back at the Tar Heels’ victory, from the UNC point of view:

What worked: During the first and fourth quarters, most things worked for the Tar Heels, who outscored the Wolfpack 43-14 during those two quarters. UNC got off to a fast start and built a 25-7 lead before rallying from a 35-25 deficit to win the game with Giovani Bernard’s 74-yard punt return for a touchdown with 13 seconds to play. As he has been for most of the season, Bernard was spectacular on Saturday. He gained 135 yards on 23 carries, caught eight passes for 95 yards and finished the game with the electrifying punt return. UNC finished with 570 yards of offense, and gained an average of 6.6 yards per play. 

What needs work: As well as UNC played at the beginning and end on Saturday, N.C. State dominated the middle portion of the game. The Heels’ pass defense was exposed on Saturday and the Wolfpack seemed to pass underneath the coverage – and sometimes over it – at will. Mike Glennon, the N.C. State quarterback, finished with a career-high 467 yards passing and threw five touchdown passes, which tied a school record. The 467 yards passing were the third-most that UNC has ever allowed.

Three up:

-Giovani Bernard. What more can be said about Bernard? How about this – and I wrote it on Twitter (you can follow me @_andrewcarter) after the game on Saturday: Bernard deserves a place in the Heisman discussion. He leads the nation in all-purpose yards per game and is the only player in the country to score multiple touchdowns rushing, receiving and on special teams.

-Jonathan Cooper. UNC’s senior offensive guard played 85 snaps on Saturday and finished with 18 knockdown blocks. That’s a lot. He also graded out at 90 percent and led an offensive line that allowed the Tar Heels to amass 570 yards of total offense.

-UNC’s resiliency. The Tar Heels have shown some fight before – most notably in second-half comebacks that fell short at Louisville and Duke. And there UNC was again on Saturday, entering the fourth quarter with a double-digit deficit. This time, the Heels’ rally ended in victory.

Three down:

-The pass defense. N.C. State’s Mike Glennon finished with a career-high 467 yards passing and his five touchdown passes tied the school record. Glennon played well, but UNC didn’t exactly make it difficult for him. Many of his receivers were wide open, including Tobias Palmer on that 83-yard touchdown in the second quarter that turned the momentum – and the game – in the Wolfpack’s favor.

-The second and third quarters. UNC’s poor performance during the second and third quarters nearly spoiled what the Tar Heels accomplished at the beginning and end of the game. The Heels were outscored 21-0 in the second and third quarters. They had no answers defensively and had difficulty generating offense, too. That was a surprise given UNC’s early success.

-The helmets. I know the players liked them. I know many of the fans liked them. But as much as I tried to appreciate UNC’s helmets on Saturday, I just couldn’t. They’re not the worst college football helmets I’ve seen lately (Maryland has some hideous designs) but they did look a bit gimmicky, no? Metallic gray with a big, oddly-shaped foot stretched around either side. And if you’re going to wear those, shouldn’t it be against an opponent that’s not your rival? Rivalry games are about tradition and history, and the helmets UNC wore on Saturday looked out of place.

Up next: UNC has an off week this week before hosting Georgia Tech on Nov. 10. The Tar Heels are 11-9-2 at home against the Yellow Jackets.

- Andrew Carter

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Rewind: Duke at Florida State

Duke (6-3, 3-2 in the ACC)

Lost to FSU 48-7

The epigraph: "I told our team it was not a product of their preparation. We have a very committed team. We practiced well. It was not a product of we’re bowl-eligible, now we’re going to shut down. That’s not the case. It is a product of playing a very good team. We didn’t respond to that very good team." —head coach David Cutcliffe

What worked: Big-picture wise, not much. But when coach David Cutcliffe went back and reviewed film, there were individual plays that Duke did win.

A few notable numbers: The Seminoles entered the game with seven fumbles on the entire season, but they put the ball on the ground four times against Duke, including three times in the third quarter. The Blue Devils did recover all four loose balls.

In the first quarter, backup nose guard Steven Ingram hit FSU quarterback EJ Manuel and knocked the ball loose, and freshman safety Dwayne Norman recovered. In the second half, Tyler Hunter muffed a punt off his facemask (Austin Gamble recovered), Ross Cockrell stripped receiver Rodney Smith (Walt Canty recovered), and Norman collected his second fumble recovery when he knocked the ball loose from running back Devonta Freeman.

"We come out and do ball security every day at the beginning of practice," FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher said. "We're going to fix that, I can't tolerate that and Devonta (Freeman) put one on the ground. I couldn't see what happened on his. But that was disappointing, but I was very proud of our team."

Also, for the first time since a Nov. 4, 2009 win over Wake Forest, the Seminoles didn’t record a sack. That said, FSU did knock out both starting running back Juwan Thompson and quarterback Sean Renfree with vicious hits. Cutcliffe said Sunday that both Thompson and Renfree were sick entering Saturday's game, complicating any postgame evaluation (when you feel bad going in, getting knocked around won't make that any better). CAT scans and X-rays for Thompson came back negative. Cutcliffe did not have an update on Renfree.

What needs work: “Malfunctioned” was the word senior defensive end Kenny Anunike used to describe Duke’s performance on offense, defense and special teams. After reviewing the film Sunday morning, Cutcliffe said there wasn’t a single individual performance worth highlighting. Prehaps most surprising, though, were the struggles of Duke’s two freshmen specialists, punter Will Monday and kicker Ross Martin.

Monday had drawn heavy praise from  Fisher all week, and he came out and shanked his first punt out of bounds as it went just 29 yards. His third punt was returned 75 yards for a touchdown, and he also had another one that was a line drive right into Hunter’s hands. On the day, though, Monday punted 11 times with an average of 40.5 yards per punt, close to his ACC-leading average of 45.8 entering the game.

Martin hadn’t missed a field goal since week one against Florida International (and that was his only miss on the year entering the game), but he missed wide left from 24 yards. That snapped his streak of 13 consecutive field goals.

What’s next: Duke has another tough challenge when No. 10 Clemson (7-1, 4-1) comes to town. The Tigers only loss was on the road to FSU, 49-37.

The epitaph: "I think this is the best team in the country, and I’ve been doing this a long time. I don’t think they have a weakness." —Cutcliffe

-- Laura Keeley

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Big FSU plays burying Duke at half

The big play doomed Duke early as Florida State raced out to a 31-7 lead.

FSU wasted little time flashing its superior athleticism, as the Seminoles took three plays and 52 seconds to open up the scoring. On third-and-10 from the FSU 29-yard line, Duke’s starting cornerback, Lee Butler, slid to safety to fill in for the injured Brandon Braxton. That left reserve Tony Foster on FSU wide receiver Rashad Greene, who burned Foster for the long catch. And even though Foster did catch up to Greene before he reached the end zone, he could not bring him down, resulting in a 71-yard touchdown catch. Florida State led 7-0 with 11:20 remaining in the first.

Duke true freshman Dwayne Norman, also helping fill in for the injured Braxton, recovered a fumble on Duke’s 32-yard line after FSU quarterback EJ Manuel was pressured and hit by the Duke defense. The offense, though, ran a play for negative yards on each of its first three drives, including this particular one, and Will Monday came on to punt. The ensuing kick was returned for a 75-yard touchdown by FSU’s Tyler Hunter, who just assumed those duties this week.

FSU kicker Dustin Hopkins added a 26-yard field goal to put the Seminoles up 17-0 to end the first quarter.

The long pass continued to plague Duke in the second quarter, as Manuel found Rodney Smith, who had beaten Ross Cockrell, in the middle of the field for a 52-yard gain on the drive’s opening play. Two James Wilder Jr runs later, and the Seminoles had a 24-0 lead. That was the second three-play scoring drive that took less then a minute off the clock.

Devonta Freeman gave the Seminoles a 31-0 lead with 11 minutes remaining in the second quarter on a 9-yard touchdown run right through the middle of the Duke defensive line.

Manuel’s first four completions all went for at least 25 yards (25, 34, 52, 71). Duke quarterback Sean Renfree’s longest completion, meanwhile, was 18 yards to freshman Max McCaffrey, who also caught a 13-yard pass earlier in the game for his first career catch.

Duke opened the game 0-for-6 on third down. The Blue Devils first conversion didn’t come until FSU held a 31-0 lead.

Two high hits from Florida State defenders, resulting in personal foul penalties, helped Duke moved down the field on its scoring drive. Jela Duncan put Duke on the board with a 3-yard touchdown run, but the Blue Devils lost two starters on the drive as a result of the hits.

Seminoles safety Lamarcus Joyner was flagged hit Juwan Thompson around his head as he went up for a Sean Renfree pass, leaving Thompson on the ground for several minutes before he was helped off the field. A few plays later, FSU safety Karlos Williams laid Renfree out with a helmet-to-helmet hit that knocked him out of the game. After a few minutes, Renfree, clearly shaken, was helped off the field.

USC's Lattimore suffers leg injury

COLUMBIA -- South Carolina tailback Marcus Lattimore sustained what appeared to be a serious leg injury midway through the second quarter of the Gamecocks' game Saturday against Tennessee at Williams-Brice Stadium.
Lattimore was taken by cart off the field after he had run for 2 yards and was hit on what appeared to be his right leg by Tennesee linebacker Quin Smith with 4:45 left in the half. Lattimore, who missed six games last season with a knee-injury and was considered a Heisman Trophy candidate entering this season, was tended to by trainers before being taken off the field by a cart with a towel over his head. The entire Gamecocks team and most of the Volunteers gathered around Lattimore before he was taken off.
Lattimore was taken to a local hospital for further evaluation. There was no report of the nature of his injury through the fourth quarter of the game.-- David Scott

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Ross Cockrell's personal rise mirrors Duke's rise

DURHAM - Two years ago, on a nearly every-week basis, Duke head coach David Cutcliffe told the media that Ross Cockrell was going to be a great football player.

And every time, the reporters would pause, put their hand to their mouth or reveal whatever was their personal tell that indicated disbelief.

But now, two years later, a question was posed to Cutcliffe: is Ross Cockrell the best cornerback in the ACC?

Cutcliffe declined to answer that specifically, saying he didn't want to put a target on Cockrell's back entering Duke's game at Florida State Saturday. Statistically, though, Cockrell, now a redshirt junior, is, in fact, the best cornerback in the league, as he leads the ACC in total passes defended and is tied for the lead with four interceptions. He ranks in the top four nationally in both categories as well.

 "Ross is outstanding," Cutcliffe said. "You guys know I've said that since he was a freshman, even though it wasn't going well."

Cockrell did struggle as a freshman, as opposing teams targeted him relentlessly. In his second career game, Wake Forest (and future NFL) receiver Chris Givens told him, "Man, you're not that good," something that has stuck with Cockrell to this day.

At the time, though, Cockrell didn't realize the extent of his struggles.

"While I was in the season, I didn't realize how bad of a season it really was," he said, evoking laughter.  "So I guess that ignorance is pristine. That's how I would describe it, I was ignorant to the fact that I was getting picked on. But now, looking back at it, I can see it.

Cockrell went to work that offseason on his strength and footwork. He also spent a large amount of time studying film, a habit he still keeps.

"Ross is very smart at the game," said Tony Foster, a redshirt senior cornerback. "He has a knowledge of the types of routes that receivers run and how to break on them. And the thing that Ross does is that his film study is amazing. He's helped me out so much with my film study, giving me tips on what to see."

As Cockrell has improved, so, too has the Duke program. He's now a team captain and one of the to-go guys for reporters seeking information. When asked if he thought the Cockrell from two years ago could play for Duke today, he laughed.

"No, he not would play at all," he said. "I will say that."

Cutcliffe, too, got a chuckle when he heard that.

"There are rocky roads with young players, and you have to watch that that doesn't destroy their confidence. I don't think anything could ever destroy Ross Cockrell mentally or emotionally. He may be one of the toughest people mentally that I've ever known."

Not even a late-game miscue last week against UNC could rattle Cockrell. He was the one that failed to corral the North Carolina fumble late in the fourth quarter, the one Gio Bernard scooped up and scored with to give the Tar Heels the lead with 3:13 remaining.

Fellow veterans Sean Renfree and Conner Vernon redeemed him, though. And Jamison Crowder, one of the talented, young players that didn't exist at Duke when Cockrell was playing two years ago, sealed the Duke win with his fourth-down touchdown catch.

The combination of young and old has resulted in Duke's first bowl birth since 1994. Now that is a notion that would have blown reporters' poker faces two years ago.

- Laura Keeley

UNC fans: Have you ever wanted a win against N.C. State more than this one?

CHAPEL HILL — I have a theory about this North Carolina-N.C. State game on Saturday. My theory is this: I don’t think there’s ever been a football game against N.C. State that the UNC community – coaches, players, administrators, boosters, alumni, fans, etc. – have wanted to win more than this one.

This will be the 102nd meeting between the teams. Has the UNC community ever wanted to win a game more than this? Again, I say no.

Here’s why:

• Start with the five-game losing streak. UNC is 63-32-6 against N.C. State, but 0-5 during the past five years. The Tar Heels also lost five consecutive games against the Wolfpack from 1988 through 1992, but UNC has never lost six consecutive games against N.C. State. The losing streak would be bad enough by itself, but it has come during a time of unprecedented trouble at UNC.

• About that: N.C. State’s five-game winning streak against UNC has coincided with dark times in Chapel Hill. There has been a multi-faceted NCAA investigation and sanctions. There have been embarrassing revelations about the African- and Afro-American Studies Department, and troubling questions about the grades athletes received. And N.C. State fans, while reveling in their team’s on-the-field success, have enjoyed reminding UNC fans of their school’s problems. Not only that, but …

• N.C. State fans have actively contributed to some of those problems. I’m talking, specifically, about the message board sleuths at, a website that covers N.C. State sports and one that also features an active forum full of Wolfpack fans. Some of those fans uncovered the plagiarism that led to the dismissal of former football player Michael McAdoo. The first public link to Julius Peppers’ transcript, which reflected poor grades and a reliance on AFAM courses to stay eligible, also first originated on the PackPride message boards.

• All that would be reason enough for UNC fans to want this game against N.C. State more than any other in history but then there’s this: The Tar Heels can’t go to a bowl game this season. The ACC says they can’t even recognize themselves as Coastal Division champions if they finish first. Yes, a winning season would be nice. An 8- or 9-win season would be an accomplishment. But beating N.C. State? Ending the losing streak? That’d be the highlight of the Tar Heels’ season.

So you have the five-game losing streak, the NCAA investigation and sanctions, the glee N.C. State fans have displayed over all those troubles, the fact that some N.C. State fans have actively contributed to UNC’s problems and the fact that this is, basically, UNC’s bowl game. What does it all add up to? A game on Saturday that, I think, UNC fans want to win more than any other football game against N.C. State in history.

Am I wrong? Am I right?

Let’s hear it …

Feel free to leave comments below or, if you'd like, email them to me at If they're good, I might just use them in a story I'm working on about this very topic.

- Andrew Carter

Monday, October 22, 2012

UNC CB Jabari Price on Tim Jackson cut block: It was a nasty play

CHAPEL HILL -- There are two plays from Duke's 33-30 victory against North Carolina on Saturday that a lot of people are talking about Monday.

One, we've already discussed right here - that strange moment when UNC freshman linebacker Shakeel Rashad collided with Duke receiver Conner Vernon.

The other play happened a few moments after that one. I've posted the video of it above. On that play, Brian Moore, a senior center for Duke, engages Tim Jackson, the North Carolina defensive tackle. Moore and Jackson aren't near the action, as the clip above shows, but Moore stands Jackson up and then cuts him down.

Jackson suffered an injury on the play, and could miss two to three weeks, UNC coach Larry Fedora said.

"It's unfortunate because it was away from the play," Fedora said earlier Monday. "I'm sure that the guy had no intention to harm him, either. But as the play was ending he ended up cutting a guy, and it's put him out for two or three weeks."

Jabari Price, the UNC junior cornerback, was less diplomatic when asked about the play.

Said Price: "I feel like it was a nasty play and I feel like something needs to be done."

"I didn't even get a chance to see that play until this morning on YouTube," Price said. "And I haven't talked to Tim yet, but I hope he bounces back. He's a big part of our defensive line and it showed once we couldn't stop the run."

Price was asked about both the play on which Jackson suffered his injury, as well as the play when Rashad ran into Vernon.

"I mean, it's a rivalry game," Price said. "There's going to be some emotions flying - whether [Vernon] faked the fall or not. But he came back in the next play, so I'll let you be the judge of that. But I feel like what happened to Tim was - it was unfortunate. And I hope he bounces back and I hope action is taken."

- Andrew Carter

UNC linebacker Shakeel Rashad suspended by ACC for hit on Duke's Vernon (with video of play)

UPDATED at 5 p.m. with Rashad suspension:

CHAPEL HILL -- North Carolina freshman linebacker Shakeel Rashad has been suspended for one game by the ACC for his collision Saturday night with Duke receiver Conner Vernon during the second quarter of the Blue Devils' 33-30 victory.

With Duke leading 13-6 with about 10 minutes to play in the quarter, Rashad ran onto the field while the Duke offense lined up. Rashad collided with Vernon, the ACC’s all-time leader in receptions, and knocked him to the ground. Vernon left the game for one play.

The play has sparked controversy, though it didn’t have an effect on the outcome of the game. After watching the play on film, Duke coach David Cutcliffe said he was “speechless” about it. Cutcliffe, according to our Duke beat reporter Laura Keeley, had this to say about Rashad’s collision with Vernon:

“It was full speed, and there was no intent to avoid. We were going to turn it in [to the league office] but we understand now that the conference office is looking at it, and I'll be interested to see what they say … People have seen it, you've seen it on television, I've just never seen anything quite like it. I was amazed when I saw that this morning. I don't know, I'm kind of speechless about it.

“I've never had that happen in my entire career. Very unusual.”

It was an unusual play, indeed. The question is whether Rashad went out of his way to run into Vernon.
North Carolina coach Larry Fedora on Monday dismissed that suggestion.

“First of all, you’ve got to know Rashad,” Fedora said. “He’s one of the nicest kids that we have on our football team and I can assure you there was no intention of harming the other player. Or actually, there was no intention on his part to actually even run into the player.”

Fedora said Rashad should have been on the field already, and was in “panic mode” trying to get onto the field in time. Fedora said, joking, that if Rashad had been more athletic he likely could have avoided Vernon.

“I promise [you], there was none of, ‘Hey, let me run into this guy and that will stop the play before it gets started,’” Fedora said. “There was no malice at all.”

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Duke 33, UNC 30: Blue Devils' Rewind

Duke (6-2, 3-1 in the ACC, first in the Coastal Division)

The epigraph: "That’s what college football is all about right there. Playing a big rival, being at home and playing in front of a fantastic crowd, the best crowd I’ve ever seen here, and that really pushed us over the top." — Duke quarterback Sean Renfree

What worked: Duke ran the ball more effectively than they had at any point in David Cutcliffe's five-year tenure. Against UNC's 14th-ranked rushing offense, Duke collected 234 yards on the ground, the most for the Blue Devils since they ran for 253 in an Oct. 28, 2006 loss to Vanderbilt. Duke attempted a season-high 53 rushes, and Juwan Thompson gained 64 yards on 11 carries, Jela Duncan 74 yards on 22 handoffs, and Josh Snead set a new career-high with 99 yards on 15 attempts.

"Sneed was on fire. He was possessed, the way he played tonight," Cutcliffe said. "He was knifing, and he’s more physical than people think."

Duke freshman kicker Ross Martin was also 4-for-4 on field goal attempts, connecting from 20, 28, 30 and 43 yards. Martin is 14-for-15 on the year, with his only miss coming in the season-opener against FIU. For a team that has long been plagued by special teams miscues, the value of his stability is immeasurable.

Defensively, Duke was able to virtually eliminate any passing attack the Tar Heels attempted during the first three quarters, as starting quarterback Bryn Renner was 10-of-19 for 36 yards. And while Gio Bernard did gain 143 rushing yards that was significantly lower than the 219.5 he had averaged over the past two weeks in victories over Virginia Tech and Miami.

What needs work: Ideally Duke doesn't let UNC score three touchdowns during a 21-0 run in the fourth quarter. If the Blue Devils, who are currently in first place in the Coastal Division, want to make their dreams of playing in the ACC Championship game in Charlotte a reality, they will need to tighten up in upcoming games against the physically superior Florida State and Clemson squads.

What's next: No. 11 Florida State awaits Duke in Tallahassee. So far this year, the Blue Devils have vanquished two long losing streaks—the 12-game slide against Wake Forest and the 8-game skid against the Tar Heels. In fact, this is only the third time since 1970 that Duke has beaten its two annual in-state opponents and first since 1989 (1982 was the only other season). But the reality is that the Blue Devils have never beaten the Seminoles and are 0-17 all-time against FSU. That matches the longest conference losing streak in ACC history, as Virginia beat Wake Forest every year between 1984-2000.

The epitaph: "It’s a huge burden off our shoulders, I’ll tell you that. Every year we’ve talked about going to a bowl game, and every year we didn’t reach that goal. This year we have met the goal, and we still have four or five games left to play." —Duke cornerback Ross Cockrell

-- Laura Keeley

Duke 33, UNC 30: Tar Heels' Rewind

CHAPEL HILL — North Carolina suffered a 33-30 defeat at Duke on Saturday night. On the day after, a look back at a game that will be remembered for its wild finish:

Three quick things to away from the Tar Heels’ 33-30 loss against the Blue Devils:

1. What an ending. Trailing for nearly the entire game, UNC rallied and took the lead with its third touchdown in the fourth quarter. When Giovani Bernard picked up Erik Highsmith’s fumble and ran into the end zone, UNC led 30-26. But Duke drove 87 yards in 14 plays to score the game-winning touchdown with 13 seconds to play.

2. Games like this could make the UNC-Duke football rivalry relevant again. A rivalry isn’t really a rivalry when one team dominates as much as North Carolina has dominated this series for the past two decades. But given Duke’s steady improvement under coach David Cutcliffe, there’s no reason why games like these can’t become the norm.

3. What happened to the UNC run defense? The Tar Heels allowed 234 yards rushing, by far its most of the season. UNC didn’t allow all that many yards per carry – a relatively modest 4.4 – but the Heels couldn’t consistently slow down the Blue Devils’ running game.


After nearly 60 minutes, the game came down to this: Duke, with a fourth down from the North Carolina 5-yard line, trailed 30-26. About 20 seconds remained. Sean Renfree, the Blue Devils quarterback, took the snap, bided his time and threw short pass over the middle to Jamison Crowder, who made the catch between a couple of Tar Heels’ defenders. With that, Duke went ahead 33-30 with 13 seconds to play.


1. Josh Snead/Jela Duncan/Juwan Thompson. Duke’s trio of running backs combined for 237 yards rushing and one touchdown. Snead finished with a team-high 99 yards, but all three backs were instrumental in keeping the Blue Devils’ offense moving – and in keeping UNC’s offense off the field.

2. Giovani Bernard. The Tar Heels sophomore running back finished with 143 yards on 24 carries and two touchdowns – one of them coming after he recovered Highsmith’s fumble and ran into the end zone to give UNC a brief late in the fourth quarter.

3. Conner Vernon. Another Saturday, another solid game for Vernon, the Duke senior receiver who finished with 124 yards on six catches.


North Carolina entered Saturday night appearing to have a significant advantage in the running game – and on both sides. The Tar Heels ranked 30th in rushing offense, and were averaging 210.6 rushing yards per game. Defensively, UNC ranked 14th in run defense, and it was allowing an average of 99.7 rushing yards per game. Duke, meanwhile, ranked 104th nationally in rushing offense, and 58th in rushing defense. But the Blue Devils running game dominated on Saturday, finishing with 234 yards. It was the first time Duke’s victory against Virginia on Nov. 6, 2010, that the Blue Devils amassed more than 200 yards rushing. UNC finished with 177 yards rushing but the offense didn’t seem to find a rhythm until the fourth quarter.


--UNC’s defeat snapped its eight-game winning streak against Duke. The Tar Heels have now won 21 of the past 23 games in the series dating to 1990.

--The Tar Heels lost at Wallace Wade Stadium for the first time since 1988.

--Red zone woes came back to haunt UNC. The Tar Heels ventured inside the Duke 20-yard line five times, but had to settle for field goals on their first three trips.

--Bernard surpassed the 2,000-yard career rushing mark.


For the second consecutive week, UNC will play a neighborhood rival. This time it’s N.C. State, which has defeated the Tar Heels in each of the past five games between the teams. The Wolfpack visits Kenan Stadium on Saturday in a game that will begin at 12:30 p.m.

- Andrew Carter

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Duke posts 20-6 lead on UNC at half

DURHAM — Duke is one half away from becoming bowl eligible for the first time since 1994 – and one half away from breaking an eight-game losing streak against North Carolina.

Behind a strong running game, the Blue Devils hold an 20-6 halftime lead against the Tar Heels here at Wallace Wade Stadium. UNC hasn’t allowed more than 183 yards rushing this season. Duke, though, is on its way to eclipsing that total.

The Blue Devils gained 119 yards rushing in the first half. Freshman running back Jela Duncan leads the team with 46 rushing yards on nine carries, one of which went for a 2-yard touchdown that gave Duke a 20-6 lead a few minutes before halftime.

The Devils have also received a strong performance from Josh Snead, who is averaging 7.8 yards per carry on his five carries.

Penalties have hurt the Tar Heels in recent weeks and an early one played a large role in Duke’s first half success. Blue Devils quarterback Sean Renfree threw a pass on the Devils’ first drive that was deflected and later intercepted by UNC safety Darien Rankin. But a roughing the passer penalty on linebacker Kevin Reddick negated the turnover.

Duke took advantage of the second chance, and used it to drive down the field with relative ease. Anthony Boone, the backup quarterback, entered the game and scored on a 2-yard touchdown run that gave the Blue Devils a 7-3 lead.

The Blue Devils been inside the UNC 20-yard line five times, and they’ve scored two touchdowns. The Tar Heels, meanwhile, settled for field goals after both of their trips inside the Duke 20.

Outside of a strong first half from running back Giovani Bernard, who gained 81 yards on 11 carries, the Heels’ offense has been stagnant. Bryn Renner, the UNC quarterback, has completed 8 of his 13 passes for 28 yards. He left the game for two plays on UNC’s first drive after sustaining a blow when he scrambled to avoid pressure.

Duke has outgained UNC 257 yards to 152. Renfree in the first half completed 10 of his 14 attempts for 138 yards, but threw an interception that ended one of his team’s trips to the red zone.

Andrew Carter: 919-829-8944

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Storify: Martin on UNC academic investigation

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Wake Forest suspends 2 more

Wake Forest has suspended backup offensive lineman Devin Bolling and free safety Duran Lowe indefinitely for violating athletic department policy, the school announced Saturday.

The suspensions come one week after six players were suspended for the Deacons' game Oct. 6 against Maryland.

Wake Forest is off this week and returns to action next week against at Virginia. -- David Scott

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

SI writer offers apology to N.C. State fans

Sports Illustrated's Andy Staples posted the video of the day with his apology to N.C. State fans for insulting the crowd noise at Carter-Finley Stadium before the Wolfpack's 17-16 win over Florida State last Saturday.

Staple had a little fun with the Wolfpack faithful, which is known to be difficult on both rival fan bases and the media.

"I understand that some of you may take my college transcripts and post them on the Internet because I know some of you are very good at that," Staples joked in Tuesday's video. "But please, accept my apology."

Here's what Staples wrote last Tuesday, in his power rankings column, to prompt the apology:

"To prepare for the raucous crowd at Carter-Finley Stadium — I couldn't type those words with a straight face — FSU has saved the expense of speakers to pipe in crowd noise. The quarterbacks will just whisper. That's efficiency."

- Joe Giglio

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

UNC opponent: Get to know the Miami Hurricanes

CHAPEL HILL — North Carolina travels to South Florida this weekend, where the Tar Heels will meet Miami on Saturday at Sun Life Stadium. UNC hasn’t won at Miami since 2008 and the Heels are 1-3 down there since the Hurricanes joined the ACC in 2004.

Some things to know about the Hurricanes …

Miami: 4-2 (3-0 ACC, 1-0 Coastal Division)

Last time out: lost to Notre Dame 41-3

Trending: Down. The Hurricanes had some momentum going thanks to three consecutive victories, but that all evaporated during a 41-3 loss against Notre Dame on Saturday at Soldier Field in Chicago.

The name to know: QB Stephen Morris set an ACC record two weeks ago when he threw for 566 yards during the Hurricanes’ 44-37 victory against N.C. State. Morris became Miami’s starting quarterback during the second half of the 2010 season but played sparingly a season ago.

But now his 1,836 passing yards rank fifth nationally, and his play has been one of the primary reasons why the Hurricanes are off to a somewhat surprising 4-2 start. Morris has attempted at least 35 passes in five of Miami’s six games, and he threw 52 passes – and completed 31 for 436 yards – during the Canes’ 42-36 victory against Georgia Tech.

Other names to know: RB Duke Johnson, a freshman, leads the Hurricanes with 381 rushing yards, and is averaging 6.4 yards per carry. WR Phillip Dorsett, a sophomore, averages 78.3 receiving yards per game, and has three receiving touchdowns. Defensively, lineman Shayon Green has been a force up front, and leads the team in tackles with 39.

Things about Miami that are of concern for UNC: North Carolina might not face another team the rest of the season that has the kind of natural talent that Miami does. The Hurricanes, as always, are fast and have plenty of playmakers on offense. Morris and the Canes’ passing offense have proven they can score, which means that UNC will have to continue to do a good job of converting its scoring chances into touchdowns.

Things about Miami that UNC might feel good about: As fast as the Hurricanes, they’ve done a poor job generating defensive pressure and making plays in the offensive backfield. Miami ranks tied for 102nd nationally in sacks, and 105th in tackles for loss. The Canes’ rushing defense has been awful, too – and it was especially on Saturday against Notre Dame, which ran for 376 yards. Miami has allowed an average of 250.7 rushing yards per game, which ranks 116th nationally.

Did you know: That UNC has a winning record against the Hurricanes? The Tar Heels are 8-7 all-time against Miami, but 4-4 against Miami since the Canes began ACC play in 2004.

Bottom line: This Miami team doesn’t much resemble the kind that dominated college football during stretches of the 80s, 90s and 2000s. But the Hurricanes still have a lot of talent, as always, and UNC coach Larry Fedora said Miami is as fast and as talented as any team in the ACC.

Even so, Miami has been reliant on youth, and with youth comes inconsistency. That might help to explain why the Hurricanes looked impressive in shoot-out victories against Georgia Tech and N.C. State, but anything but impressive in lopsided losses against Kansas State and Notre Dame.

During its four victories, Miami has scored at least 38 points. But in its two losses, the Canes have scored just 16 points combined. Which Miami team will show up on Saturday at Sun Life Stadium?

-- Andrew Carter

Monday, October 8, 2012

UNC, Duke to meet in primetime ... in football

CHAPEL HILL - Primetime nationally-televised games between North Carolina and Duke are nothing new in basketball. Football - well, that's a different story.

But when the Tar Heels and Blue Devils meet on Oct. 20 at Wallace Wade Stadium, they will play in primetime and on national television. The ACC announced earlier today that UNC's game at Duke would begin at 7 p.m., and would be televised either by ESPN2 or ESPNU.

No, it's not exactly the ABC national game of the week (Florida State at Miami has the honors for Oct. 20), but this is good publicity for a rivalry that hasn't exactly created much buzz over the past, oh, 15 to 20 years or so. Actually, UNC and Duke are off to their best combined starts since 1994.

After six games, the Blue Devils that season were a perfect 6-0. UNC was 5-1. The regular season ended with the Tar Heels' 41-40 victory against Duke.

I should also mention here that should UNC and Duke both win this weekend - UNC is at Miami and Duke is at Virginia Tech - I will be lobbying for ESPN's College GameDay to broadcast from Wallace Wade on Oct. 20. What will this lobbying effort consist of? Not much, really. Just a tweet or two.

Join the cause on Twitter: #gamedayatwallacewade

- Andrew Carter

AP voter: Why not Duke?

Sunday, Duke received its first AP poll votes since the end of the 1994 season when John Silver of the Journal (Conn.) Inquirer ranked them No. 23. I had a chance to catch up with John via email and phone, and he explained his reasoning.

Looking at the AP poll it was very hard this week to find teams 20-25. There's a glut of two loss teams and I didn't want to just blindly follow conventional wisdom.

I knew that there was little chance of Duke being ranked -- schedule strength -- and when I looked at Duke vs. Michigan and or TCU, I just felt that maybe we should add another team in the mix. At 5-1, it's a good start for Duke, though the schedule isn't tough outside of the 50-13 loss to Stanford.

The Blue Devils are scoring more than 40 points a game, are 2-0 in the ACC and have scored 76 points in wins over Wake and Virginia. That profile is one of a team that should get consideration in my opinion. If Duke wins at Va Tech , they would be 6-1 and 3-0 and certainly ranked. I think Duke should be on the radar with its kind of start.

I try to use those last couple of spots, when there are no obvious teams, to maybe highlight a rising team. I have put Ohio in the Top 25 for several weeks as I have done the same with La Tech. I think I have been proven right.

To me, it's trying to find teams to get in the mix and not only blindly following the polls of a week prior.

It came down to Iowa State or Duke for a spot and I felt, why not Duke?

So, there you go. Many thanks to John for getting back to me.

- Laura Keeley

Friday, October 5, 2012

6 Wake Forest players suspended

Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe has suspended six players for Saturday's game at Maryland for violating team rules. The players include four starters: Cornerback Merrill Noel, safety Daniel Mack, linebacker Mike Olson, guard Frank Souza, as well as running back Deandre Martin and wide receiver Airyn Willis.

The players will be eligible to be reinstated for Wake's game at Virginia on Oct. 20 (the Deacons have a bye next week).

“I’m disappointed that some of our kids made poor decisions,” said Grobe. “These are good kids who just need to learn from their mistakes.” -- David Scott

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

NCAA President Mark Emmert discusses UNC case

CHAPEL HILL -- For the first time, NCAA President Mark Emmert earlier today commented on the ongoing academic fraud case at North Carolina. Well, he kind of commented.

Emmert joined columnist Gary Parrish on The Gary Parrish Show, which is broadcast on 92.9-FM in Memphis. You can listen to the interview right here - it starts at about the 20-minute mark. If you do listen, you'll understand that Parrish's questions were a lot better than Emmert's anwers.

As you might expect, he didn't offer much of a comment about whether UNC might be subject to further penalties, or whether the NCAA's enforcement staff is even continuing to look into the problems at UNC.

Asked by Parrish whether the NCAA was finished with UNC or whether UNC might be subject to further sanctions, Emmert said: "Yeah, I can't comment on ongoing investigations but the fact is is that North Carolina right now is doing a - from all appearances - a good job of trying to get to the bottom of what their problems are. We'll have to wait and see what the facts are as they come out of that situation. But I obviously can't comment on a case when it still hasn't been finalized. The university I think has been chagrined by all of this. They're working very diligently to get to the bottom of it and we'll just have to see what the facts are as they become clearer."

So judging from that - Emmert saying he wouldn't comment about "ongoing investigations" - it would appear the NCAA's enforcement staff is still conducting an investigation. Right? That was basically Parrish's next question.

To which Emmert said ...

"Again, I'm not going to make a comment on our role with UNC right now other than to point out that we've been down there - as everyone knows, we've already of course managed a number of issues that they've had and handed out some penalties for that. And then we'll continue to monitor the situation to see what the facts are as they unfold from the investigations that they're involved with, and if there's anything further that we need to do at that time."

So, to summarize: The NCAA is continuing to monitor the situation, but won't say anything of substance about what might or might not happen with UNC.

-- Andrew Carter

UNC football: What we learned during first month of the 2012 season

CHAPEL HILL — Difficult as it is to believe, North Carolina will reach the midway point of the season on Saturday when it hosts Virginia Tech at Kenan Stadium. Time moves fast, indeed – maybe faster due to Larry Fedora’s fast-paced spread offense.

Now that we’re out of September, here some things the first month of the season taught us about the Tar Heels:

--Bryn Renner can thrive in the spread offense.
Remember all those questions during the preseason about whether Renner could fit into Fedora’s fast-paced, no-huddle offense? Those questions seem like a distant memory now. Renner hasn’t been perfect, and he’d be the first to list areas where he needs to improve, but through five games he’s averaging 284.4 passing yards – which ranks 21st nationally – and has thrown 14 touchdowns and four interceptions. Renner’s efficiency rating of 160.5 ranks 20th nationally and third in the ACC behind Florida State’s EJ Manuel and Clemson’s Tajh Boyd.

--The defense is pretty good.
Even with that disastrous first-half at Louisville, North Carolina ranks among the top 20 nationally in several defensive categories: yards per play, yards per game, rushing defense, total defense. Sylvester Williams has been dominant up front, and Kevin Reddick as good as advertised at linebacker in the Heels’ new 4-2-5 scheme. The good news for UNC is that the defense appears to have progressed significantly in recent weeks. The bad news? The schedule only becomes more difficult – and more significant challenges lay ahead.

--Quinshad Davis has star potential.
Through his first five collegiate games, Davis ranks fourth on the team in receiving yards (with 210) and fourth in receptions (15). Not a bad debut for Davis, who missed the start of preseason practice while tending to a medical condition. Wide receiver was a major question mark for the Heels entering the season, and it will remain so because of lack of depth. Davis has been a bright spot, though. His yardage has increased in each of the past three games, and he caught his first two touchdown passes of his career on Saturday.

--Recruiting needs are starting to become clearer.
If asked, Fedora would probably say he needs to recruit better players at every position. And that’s true, to an extent. But some recruiting needs are more pressing than others. Recruiting more talent and speed at receiver will remain a priority for Fedora and his staff. Fedora also said on Monday that ideally he’d like to have four running backs instead of three. He’d probably like another fast back, similar to Giovani Bernard or Romar Morris. UNC also lacks the prototypical players for its bandit and ram positions on defense, and recruiting them will be a priority.

--The Tar Heels are still seeking an identity.
Fedora said on Monday that UNC is becoming more consistent, and the Heels have played extremely well in their past 10 quarters. Still, this is a team that still finding its way amid all the new – new offensive system, new defensive philosophy, new approach to special teams. One trait that Fedora has to like is that this team has displayed some character early in the season. It responded, in particular, from that awful first half at Louisville. And then responded from consecutive defeats with strong games the past two weeks. But more difficult challenges await.

- Andrew Carter

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Wingate gets national TV game

The South Atlantic Conference gets a dose of the national college football limelight Thursday night when Wingate faces Carson-Newman in Jefferson City, Tenn., at 8 p.m. on the CBS Sports Network.

Wingate (2-2, 1-0 SAC) are coming off a 43-12 victory last week against Brevard, in which the Bulldogs rolled up 410 yards in total offense. Quarterback Robbie Nallenweg threw for 244  yards and three touchdowns, with receiver Chris Bowden catching seven passes for 74 yards and a touchdown.

Carson-Newman (2-1, 1-1) dropped to .500 in the league with a 47-22 loss against Newberry. The Eagles hurt themselves with mistakes, being penalized 15 times for 96 yard. The Carson-Newman defense also allowed the Wolves 565 yards in total offense. -- David Scott

Monday, September 24, 2012

N.C. State RB Tony Creecy expected to return vs. Miami

N.C. State sophomore running back Tony Creecy returned to the top of the Wolfpack depth chart on Monday but freshman Shadrach Thornton also will play against Miami on Saturday.

Creecy missed N.C. State's 52-14 win over The Citadel last Saturday with an undisclosed injury, as did James Washington. With Mustafa Greene suspended for the second straight week, that left Thornton, a freshman, who ran for 145 yards and a pair of touchdowns in his first college game.

Thornton is second on the depth chart, behind Creecy, who has 130 yards on 31 carries in three games.

"We are going into the week with Creecy and Thornton and we'll see where the week ends up," N.C. State coach Tom O'Brien said Monday.

O'Brien did not provide an update on Greene, who has rushed for 101 yards in two games, including one start.

O'Brien said Creecy could have been used in case of emergency against The Citadel but Thornton's play eliminated any need to risk Creecy's health.

Thornton impressed O'Brien with both his toughness and running ability.

"Maybe we found something in Shadrach," O'Brien said. "Certainly what he showed Saturday, he could be a pretty dang good running back."

-- J.P. Giglio

Rewind: Duke vs. Memphis

Think about it: Duke gave the ball away four times and still won. Five years ago, that would have been unimaginable. But yesterday, despite Duke, as Brandon Connette put it, "shooting itself in the foot" the entire first half and on the opening drive of the second half, the Blue Devils ended up with a 38-14 win over Memphis.

The Blue Devils were happy after the game. Head coach David Cutcliffe attributed this to the fact that the team got better as the game went on, and not so much because Duke is 3-1 for the first time since 2008 (and, before that 1994).

Here's a look back:

The epigraph:

"Duke thoroughly dominated us - their defense versus our offense, it's pretty evident. It's just hard to win when you get handled like that on one side of the ball." --Memphis head coach Justin Fuente

What we learned:

Duke is not a fire-and-brimstone bunch

Did we know this already? If so, Saturday's events just confirm that fact. Let's review what happened in the first half:

*On Duke's opening drive Josh Snead, for the first time in his career, fumbled in the red zone, negating a successful fake punt and another fourth-down conversion after Memphis jumped offsides

*After the defense limited the Tigers' first drive to 14 yards, Lee Butler muffed a punt, giving Memphis the ball right back at the Duke 23-yard line

*When Butler avoided the next Memphis punt, the ball was downed at the 3-yard line, and Sean Renfree promptly threw an interception to Memphis's Wynton McManis, who easily scored

*Special teams gave up a 95-yard kickoff return to Bobby McCain, who, by the way, was caught from behind by Issac Blakeney. This was my featured matchup in the game preview. Just saying.

*The running game started off with two yards after nine carries. Take out the 58-yard run by Jela Duncan, and the rushing game had netted four yards on 11 carries.

*The score at halftime was 17-14 Duke. The Blue Devils were favored by 23.5 points.

So, what happened at halftime? Here's three different takes:

DE Kenny Anunike: "We went into the locker room and we all knew what to do. We went in there and there wasn't too much hootin' and hollerin'. We knew that we had to come out and show them that this is our house."

WR Conner Vernon: "He (Cutcliffe) was basically like, 'just go out there and work, execute and have fun. Let the game come to you."

Cutcliffe: "I wasn't just chewing people at halftime. I just pointed out some things. I called myself out in the process of doing that. I didn't have to say a whole lot."

So, there doesn't appear to have been a "check your manhood," Larry Fedora-type speech in the locker room. Apparently, Duke didn't need one to spark the turnaround. Every team is different.

Duke may have found an answer for the running game

And his name is Jela Duncan. The true freshman came into the game in the second quarter (his first apperance in the first half this year) and instantly took a pitch on a left sweep 58 yards. He also caught an "ill-advised" (Cutcliffe's words) swing pass that was thrown behind him on third-and-5 and took it 14 yards for on the first drive of the third quarter.

"We've got to try and get the running game started so we can feed off the passing game," Duncan said. "Coach stressed that we have to get the ball downhill, keep on running it outside whenever we could. We just tried to establish the run."

Duncan finished with nine carries for 88 yards. That's the most productive night for a freshman running back since Desmond Scott rushed for 100 against NC Central in 2008.

Brandon Connette is still the preferred red zone option

Before Connette switched positions, most of his action as backup quarterback came in the red zone, when he would replace Renfree under center. Now that Connette can line up at WR, TE or RB, Renfree stays in the game, but most of the snaps still go to Connette in a wildcat formation.

Duke took 18 snaps in the red zone. Connette received seven of those, rushing six times and throwing once (he also caught a touchdown pass from Renfree). A running back received seven of the remaining snaps, and, when you subtract out the fumble that wasn't given to any one player, that left three red zone snaps for Renfree. He completed all three passes, and two resulted in touchdowns.

Just a hunch, but I bet there's not another team in a traditional passing offense that has a starting quarterback who only took three of 18 red zone snaps.

By the numbers

1 missed third-down conversion for Duke in the second half (8-of-9). The Blue Devils were 1-of-17 in the previous three halves

6 more catches needed by Conner Vernon to set a new ACC career-high for receptions

12 sacks for the defense in four games

17 sacks for the 2011 defense in 12 games

151 points for the offense so far this season. That's the third-highest mark in Duke history (behind the Duke teams in 1945 (162) and 1943 (156))

Quick slants

Thumbs up: The defense held Memphis to zero passing yards in the second quarter. The 152 total offensive yards by the Tigers was the lowest for a Duke opponent in the Cutcliffe era. It was also the fourth time in the past five years Duke has held an opponent to under 200 yards of total offense  (170 yards, Maryland 2010; 196 yards, Virginia 2009; 181 yards, NC Central 2009)

Thumbs down: Four turnovers won't cut it against Wake Forest next week, which is for all intensive purposes Duke's Super Bowl. Beat the Deacs, bowl hopes stay alive. Lose, and their all-but mathematically gone.

Game Ball

QB Sean Renfree

Duncan is tempting, but Renfree drew higher praise than normal from Cutcliffe after the game.

"19 [Renfree] played with a little edge that we want to see," Cutcliffe said. How about him with a run at a critical time for a conversion (25 yards on third-and-11in the fourth quarter) and a big play on a drive we needed to score a touchdown. He can do those things and I liked the edge. I liked it a lot."

Renfree finished 26-of-37 for 314 yards and four touchdowns (against one interception). The four scores tie a career-high.

The epilogue

"It just goes to show the depth and talent on this team and the will to fight. Nobody was ready to back down or lay down. Nobody's head was hanging in the locker room. We knew how good we were." --Vernon

-- Laura Keeley

UNC 27, ECU 6: The final word

CHAPEL HILL -- When North Carolina resumes practice on Tuesday, the Tar Heels' focus will turn to preparing for Idaho, which visits Kenan Stadium on Saturday.

But first, one last look back at UNC's 27-6 victory against ECU on Saturday.

Three things to take away from UNC 27, ECU 6:

1. Welcome back, Gio. In his first game back since suffering a knee injury in the Heels' season-opening 62-0 victory against Elon, Giovani Bernard scored two touchdowns and finished with 102 yards of offense. It wasn't one of Bernard's best games, but he'll take it. After two weeks of speculation about his status, he's back.

2. Bryn Renner is starting to get it. Renner seems to be becoming more and more comfortable in the Tar Heels' spread offense. After throwing for a career-high 363 yards in the loss at Louisville, Renner threw for 321 against ECU. No other quarterback in school history has thrown for more yards in consecutive games.

3. The defense bounces back. In its past six quarters, the UNC defense has allowed just three field goals. Not bad for a unit that was torched in the first half at Louisville, and struggled in the fourth quarter at Wake Forest earlier this month.

Things to build on:

• The defensive performance. After breakdowns in consecutive weeks in losses at Wake Forest and Louisville, the Tar Heels showed off their defensive might against the Pirates. No, ECU isn't an offensive juggernaut, but the Tar Heels finished with seven sacks, which would be impressive against any team. UNC's defense needed a whole, complete performance - and for the most part that's what Saturday represented.

• Giovani Bernard's return. Even though A.J. Blue and Romar Morris played well in Bernard's absence, you got the sense that something was just missing from the Tar Heels' offense in those losses at Wake Forest and Louisville. Bernard's return instantly makes the UNC offense more potent, and it should also allow offensive coordinator Blake Anderson to be more confident with his play calling.

Things to improve:

• Once again, UNC seemed to come out a bit flat on Saturday. The Tar Heels never trailed, and the defense held ECU to a pair of field goals after two long drives stalled in the Heels' red zone. Even so, UNC allowed ECU to hang around and hang around. The Tar Heels led 10-6 at halftime, and took control of the game with a touchdown-turnover-touchdown flurry early in the third quarter. UNC coach Larry Fedora wants to see some of those game-changing plays in the first half.

• In addition to the somewhat slow start, the Heels were sloppy on Saturday. They committed a season-high nine penalties for 91 yards - many of them coming before the snap. Those kinds of things - false starts, for instance - infuriate Fedora.

The final word:

UNC's 27-6 victory against ECU was the Tar Heels' most complete performance to date, and it could be a catalyst for the final two-thirds of the season.

Friday, September 14, 2012

UNC RB Giovani Bernard does not travel to Louisville

UNC will be without running back Giovani Bernard, center, on Saturday at No. 19 Louisville. AP photo
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — For the second consecutive week, North Carolina will be without its best running back.

Giovani Bernard did not travel Friday to Louisville, where the Tar Heels will play the 19th-ranked Cardinals at 3:30 p.m. Saturday. Kevin Best, a UNC football team spokesman, confirmed Bernard's absence.

Jheranie Boyd, a senior receiver, also did not make the trip, Best said. Boyd watched practices this week while wearing a protective boot on his foot.

Bernard, who set a school freshman record a season ago with 1,253 rushing yards, was injured during the season opener against Elon after he compiled 203 all-purpose yards. He scored three touchdowns, and then left the game late in the second quarter.

Boyd caught one pass each against Elon and Wake Forest. His reception against Elon went for a 35-yard touchdown.

In Bernard's absence, junior A.J. Blue likely is to start for the second consecutive week. Blue ran for 106 yards last week in a 28-27 loss at Wake Forest, and Romar Morris, a redshirt freshman, gained 70 yards on 14 carries.

Roy Smith, a walk-on who also runs track, likely is to continue handling the Tar Heels' punt return duties in place of Bernard, who against Elon returned a punt 70 yards for a touchdown. Mark McNeil, a former walk-on from UNC's lacrosse team, likely will start in place of Boyd.

McNeil also started the opener against Elon.

Coach Larry Fedora doesn't publicly discuss injuries, so a timetable for the return of Bernard and Boyd - or even an official diagnoses of their injuries - hasn't been released. Fedora this week spoke with optimism about Bernard's status.

"Gio practiced yesterday, and said he felt fine," Fedora said Wednesday. "So we'll see how that goes."

Fedora also spoke of how much UNC missed Bernard last week at Wake Forest. The Tar Heels especially missed him in the red zone, where two second-half drives stalled and resulted in short field goals.

"It's hard to say how much we missed him," Fedora said of Bernard. "If he's not on the field, it's obvious we missed him."

- Andrew Carter

Monday, September 10, 2012

UNC QB Bryn Renner: Hard hit did not affect play against Wake Forest

CHAPEL HILL -- North Carolina quarterback Bryn Renner said on Monday that the hard hit he endured on Saturday at Wake Forest didn't affect his play.

"I just want to clear that up for everybody," he said, adding that any mistakes he made after that play weren't a result of it.

The nasty collision happened early in the second quarter of Wake's eventual 28-27 victory. On a 3rd-and-goal play from the Demon Deacons' 1-yard line, Renner scrambled to his right and attempted to break through the goal line.

But Wake safety Duran Lowe stopped Renner short. Renner collided at full speed with Lowe and another Demon Deacons defender, and the hit knocked Renner to the ground for several moments. The collision solicited an audible "ooooooh" in the press box at BB&T Field, and a hush fell over the crowd while UNC medical personnel tended to Renner on the field. He eventually walked off without much assistance, and sat out the next play - a 1-yard touchdown run from A.J. Blue that tied the game at 14.

Renner returned for UNC's next possession. He ran for a loss of two yards, threw an incomplete pass and then fumbled when Hasan Hazime sacked him. Hazime recovered the fumble, and Wake turned the turnover into a touchdown a few plays later.

UNC coach Larry Fedora on Monday defended his decision to put Renner back into the game after that jarring hit.

"After going back and evaluating it, it [had] nothing to do with his head," Fedora said. "I mean, there was no contact to his head. He got the wind knocked out of him. And got hit pretty good. Actually, the two guys that made contact with themselves - it was a pretty violent hit on each other.

"[Renner] didn't get the most of it, I can assure you. He really came out of it fine physically."

Renner said he passed two concussion tests after the collision. He took one in the moments after sustaining the blow, and another at halftime.

Asked what those concussion tests entail, Renner described them this way:

"The basic protocol - months backwards, hand to nose. Things like that. Walk in straight lines. It's almost like a sobriety test - I've seen one on TV, I haven't taken one. I don't want to put that out there, but I've seen it on TV."

Renner has had a concussion before. He suffered one last season at N.C. State.

"This year, it was a different type of thing," he said. "It was more my ribs, and getting the wind knocked out of me."

- Andrew Carter