After falling out of the top 25 N.C. State travels to Chapel Hill to take on their rival North Carolina Tar Heels
How to Watch:
- Date: Saturday, November 25th
- Time: 3:30 p.m. ET
- Channel: ABC
- Spread: UNC -6.5
- Over/Under: 56.5 points
It’s rivalry week, a college football celebration that embraces centuries of hateful tradition for athletics programs around the country to end their respective regular seasons. In one of North Carolina’s most historic pairings, N.C. State and UNC-Chapel Hill are set to square off the day after Thanksgiving in what is guaranteed to be a heated afternoon.
On a path to redemption for last year’s historically humiliating performance, the Tar Heels enter the matchup as the clear favorite — boasting a Heisman-caliber quarterback and high-powered offense. UNC’s Drake Maye is a true star in the making in Chapel Hill. Combined with his equally-talented receiver, Josh Downs, the Tar Heels’ offense has been nearly unstoppable all season.
As great as they’ve been for the larger part of the year, UNC employs a “live by the sword, die by the sword” mentality that has seen the Tar Heels drop games to lesser opponents when Maye and Downs are off their game. Most evident in UNC’s loss to Georgia Tech a week ago that shut down the team’s top-10 dreams — when the Tar Heel offense stalls, the rest of the team goes with it.
Unlike its bitter rivals, N.C. State has seen success this season in spite of its lackluster offense. Apart from a pair of great showings from true freshman quarterback MJ Morris, the Wolfpack’s biggest killer has been its play under center. Before his injury, Devin Leary was performing far below expectations. Graduate transfer Jack Chambers has shown he’s not the same threat he was at Charleston Southern against a Power-Five schedule. With Morris missing time to injury last week, N.C. State had to dig as low as its scout team to field its primary quarterback — and he was the same Ben Finley Wolfpack fans remember from 2020.
Despite the never-ending injury carousel and poor offensive showings, the Wolfpack defense has kept this team in striking distance all season long. If Morris misses another game this week, the outcome of Friday’s matchup will rest solely on the shoulders of the defense. In that likely scenario, creating turnovers and putting N.C. State’s standout kicker Chris Dunn in a favorable field position to get points on the board will be the keys to success.
The script has completely flipped from last season’s showdown. N.C. State was the team receiving all the preseason hype in 2022 and has come up well short of expectations. The Tar Heels entered the year as a question mark in the ACC and have made the most of their schedule excluding losses to a red-hot Notre Dame and Georgia Tech a week ago. As is the nature of rivalry games, however, none of that matters come Friday. Chapel Hill or Raleigh, favorite or underdog, title contender or underperformer; all external factors fly off the table every year in this historically spiteful showdown.
Players to Know:
Michael Allen – N.C. State, RB
2022 stats: 210 yards, 5.5 yards per carry, longest rush — 36 yards
Injuries are an unfortunate part of the sport, but with missed time from steady starters comes the opportunity for young talents to show what they’re made of. In Michael Allen’s case, the continued absence of Demie Sumo-Karngbaye has opened the door for more snaps out of the backfield — and he’s done more with them than many would have expected. Continually breaking off runs for chunk gains and plowing through any defender brave enough to step in his path, Allen could have another great showing if Sumo-Karngbaye misses more time.
Drake Thomas – N.C. State, LB
2022 stats: 80 total tackles, 13 TFLs, 5.5 sacks, four passes defended
The leader of one of the conference’s best defenses, Drake Thomas, is the Drake to watch out for on the defensive side of the ball. Obviously, Maye deserves his credit as an elite threat from the quarterback position, but he’s yet to see a linebacker quite like Thomas this season. Known for terrorizing opposing signal callers, Thomas will be as determined as ever to get his hands on his least favorite school’s QB.
Drake Maye – North Carolina, QB
2022 stats: 3,614 yards, 39 touchdowns, four interceptions, 68.8% completion percentage
Coming into the season, a lot was unknown about what direction the Tar Heels’ offense was heading following the departure of Sam Howell. While “sky high” may not have seemed like a viable option then, it’s certainly the case now — all thanks to Drake Maye. Making matters worse for N.C. State, with the small number of things he can’t accomplish with his arm, Maye makes up for with his legs tenfold. Dual-threat quarterbacks have been this defense’s weakness all season, and Maye is the best of the bunch.
Josh Downs – North Carolina, WR
2022 stats: 77 receptions, 878 yards, 11.4 yards per reception, 11 touchdowns
Of the Wolfpack’s defensive struggles this season, the easiest to notice outside of containing mobile quarterbacks has been shutting down opposing star pass catchers. Syracuse, Wake Forest, and even Boston College shredded the Pack defense for chunk yards through the hands of their top receiving talents. North Carolina’s Josh Downs just might be the best of them all, and he’s more than capable of making up for his quiet performance in last year’s game on Friday.
Devin Leary: N.C. State, QB: Shoulder Injury, out
Jalen Mitchell: N.C. State, RB: Undisclosed injury, questionable Saturday
Malik Cunningham: Louisville, QB: Shoulder injury, questionable
Savion Jackson: N.C. State, DE: Knee injury, out Saturday
Anthony Smith: N.C. State, WR: Undisclosed injury, out