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 PackPride.com, 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 acarter@newsobserver.com. 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 CBSSports.com 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