Wolfpack head to Tallahassee
N.C. State (3-4, 0-3 ACC) vs. Florida State (3-4, 1-2 ACC)
[Noon, Saturday, Doak Campbell Staidum]
Broadcast info: ABC, 101.5 FM
When you go to the official N.C. State athletics football Web page and a story about Wolfpack players in the NFL greets you, you know there haven't been a lot of good things to write about Tom O'Brien's club this season. It started decently enough. Russell Wilson set the NCAA record for most consecutive passes without an interception (he's thrown four in four games since), Toney Baker returned from a two-year knee rehab (he's run well since fumbling on the season's first play) and the team raced out to a 3-1 start (two wins against Football Championship Subdivision foes and a shootout against Pitt.
Of course, after that victory, O'Brien told his team they weren't good, and he's been right ever since. They hit the road for the first time all season and lost to Wake Forest. They were beaten by three touchdowns by Duke, a team that hadn't won in Raleigh since 1984. Two weeks ago Boston College ran all over them, Montel Harris leading the charge with 264 yards on the ground.
The bye week came at a perfect time. Now the Wolfpack are set to take the field on Bobby Bowden's home turf against a less-than-their-best Florida State team that won its first ACC contest last Thursday in Chapel Hill. It's a defining game for both teams. One that O'Brien and Bowden both know they need to salvage their seasons, and in Bowden's case to continue his storied career.
Coming off a national championship and a roster overhaul, coaches picked North Carolina No. 4 in the nation in the preseason coaches' poll released Thursday.
Duke, who reached the Sweet 16 before losing by 23 points to eventual Final Four-bound Villanova, is ranked No. 8 in the poll.
Both teams tied for first in the ACC preseason poll -- the first time in ACC history the league has had co-favorites; both teams have top-10 recruiting classes (No. 3 for UNC, No. 8 for Duke according to Scout.com); both teams made the top 10 in the preseason poll for the second season in a row.
Most importantly, both teams have big question marks heading into the season. Duke lost its offensive catalysts when Gerald Henderson (NBA draft) and Elliot Williams (transferred to Memphis) left the team. The Blue Devils are still searching for a difference maker at point guard until 2010 stud Kyrie Irving can come to town, and post production is still unproven with a lot of youth.
RBC CENTER/ RALEIGH—File this one under the “pathetic” category and call it a night.
The evening celebrated 10 years of Hurricanes hockey in the RBC Center – the first game in the building took place 10 years ago tomorrow – but there wasn’t much for the home crowd to celebrate in the ‘Canes’ seventh straight loss, one in which they came out strong but quickly fell flat. It was one of those games where, even though the home team trailed by two in the third, it seemed like much more.
The Blues, 12th in the West, made a mockery of Cam Ward’s goals-against, scoring four goals on 18 shots and added an empty netter en route to a 5-2 victory.
Since we’re on the topic of reasons Carolina is mired in this streak of horrendous play, here’s another reason – an inability to recover and learn from past mistakes. The ‘Canes have now given up two goals in less than a minute in five of 11 games this season. Perhaps they’ve taken a page out of N.C. State football’s game plan and let their team defense turn to mush. (I’m not bitter, swear.)
Both teams came for a fight in the first period and a hockey game broke out. Before the seventh minute had passed there were two circling, barefisted one-on-one fights featuring Jay Harrison and Brad Winchester and, later on, Tim Conboy and longtime NHL tough guy Cam Janssen.
In trying to stop the endless march to the penalty box – the ‘Canes are first in the league in penalty minutes and on pace to more than double last year’s season total – the new theory seemed to be, “if I’m going to the box, I’d might as well take one of them with me.” Harrison and Winchester unleashed their fists of fury three minutes in before things really started. Harrison got in a few good punches before both men fell to the ice.
Conboy vs. Janssen was far less exciting. Janssen got a hold of Conboy early, but Conboy ducked so far away he couldn’t get a good shot in. That one ended in a stalemate.
David Perron scored off a rebound while the majors expired. Three Blues players broke out from the boards after a session of little kid soccer – everyone standing in a circle, kicking it around without it ever really going anywhere – along the boards and before the ‘Canes really seemed to know what happened, Ward turned away a shot, Ray Whitney cleanly missed sweeping away the rebound and Perron put it behind Ward.
North Carolina (4-3) at No. 14 Virginia Tech (5-2)
[7:30 p.m., Oct. 29, Lane Stadium]
Televised by ESPN
Another Thursday night game, but this time North Carolina travels to Blacksburg to face an angry and bitter Virginia Tech team looking to stay in the Coastal Division race.
The past few games between these two schools have been closer than expected. An injury to UNC quarterback T.J. Yates cost the Heels the victory in 2008, and the season before the Heels lost by a touchdown despite outgaining the nationally ranked Hokies.
Key stats: 2001 -- that's the last time UNC won a road game against a ranked opponent, and the prospect of ending that streak Thursday night in Blacksburg looks slim.
Despite the poor second-half performance against the Seminoles, some are pegging UNC's defense as the key for victory. Statistics back up the defense, but last Thursday showed that talented skill players and patient quarterbacks can pick apart Butch Davis' secondary.
And Virginia Tech is no slouch on defense either. The Hokies allow more than 317 yards per game (No. 31 in the nation) and played a tougher first seven games than UNC did.
Another key aspect of this game is preparation. The Hokies had a bye week to prepare for UNC just like Georgia Tech, Virginia and Florida State did. It's no coincidence that UNC is 0-3 in league play with such terrible ACC scheduling.
WALLACE WADE STADIUM/DURHAM -- It was another wet and miserable game for Duke Football, weather wise, but the Blue Devils ended up winning 17-13 over the Maryland Terps (2-5). For Mike Potter's post-game post, just click here; for the photographs, they'll be on the next page.
KENAN MEMORIAL STADIUM/CHAPEL HILL -- It was Chapel Hill's first ever Thursday night football game, a part of UNC head coach Butch Davis' plan to advance Tar Heel Football. The Heels started off with a strong 30 minutes, but couldn't produce a "W" in the last 30 minutes and lost 30-27 to the Florida State Seminoles. Click here for Jacob Swiger's half-time update or post-game report; for the photographs, they'll be on the next page.
PEARSON CAFETERIA/DURHAM Mose Rison said he had no idea how big homecoming is at an Historically Black College until he joined one's staff as a football coach.
Rison was a highly touted running back during his playing days at Central Michigan, and had stints as an assistant coach at Navy, Rutgers, Stanford and Arizona before a short tenure at Livingstone in 2004 where he got a small taste of it.
Then when he joined Rod Broadway's N.C. Central staff as N.C. Central's offensive coordinator in 2006 before becoming head coach the next season, he got the full idea.
"At Central Michigan we had homecoming too, but we didn't have near the festivities," said Rison, whose 1-6 team will host 1-7 Central State (Ohio) in the Eagles' homecoming contest Saturday at 1:30 at O'Kelly-Riddick Stadium. "I was told early on when I became head football coach that the North Carolina A&T game is big and the Winston-Salem State game is big, but homecoming may mean more than that.
"It's an opportunity to showcase what we've been doing. We want them all to come back here and have a good feeling about what we're doing with this football program. We want to play hard and come away with that second victory."
Last season Rison's team went 4-7, but was able to win that prescribed triumvirate of big games. This time, the Eagles have lost at A&T - 23-17 in overtime on Oct. 3 - and had two other close losses in between more convincing road defeats to superior opposition.
But the Eagles are coming off an open date following a 52-7 rout of Central Methodist, which came to Durham ranked No. 20 in the NAIA. CSU, a member of Division II's Great Lakes Football Conference, lost 55-35 at NAIA member Ohio Dominican on Saturday.
WALLACE WADE STADIUM/DURHAM David Cutcliffe has already seen the first part of this movie before.
But if the Duke football coach is able to get his wish, this time it will have a very different ending.
The Blue Devils have exceeded just about everyone's expectations but their own so far this season, off to a 4-3 start (2-1 ACC) with two straight ACC victories including Saturday's 17-13 victory over Maryland and two road wins already this season.
That's not much different from what the Blue Devils were last year, when they started 4-3 before ending up 1-7 in the ACC.
Duke's next opponent will be Virginia (3-4, 2-1), at 3:30 on Saturday at Scott Stadium. Duke, which last won in Charlottesville in 1999, had its most impressive win of Cutcliffe's first season at the helm with a 31-3 romp in Durham last year. The Blue Devils are seeking their first winning season since 1994, and if they accomplish that they will be in a bowl game, period.
"All these games get bigger and bigger and bigger," Cutcliffe said at his weekly press luncheon at the Brooks Football Building. "People say 'Tell me a little bit about Virginia,' and when I think about Virginia - and it's probably because of Coach (Al) Groh - I think about physical defense. This is the hardest-hitting defensive team we will play. They are loaded for big hits and very physical across the board. Their secondary is special. It's not a mistake that they lead the conference in pass defense."
That will put strength against strength, as Duke is getting 322.6 of its 397 yards total offense per game through the air.
It's been a weird several days since Christian Ponder went all Drew Brees on the Tar Heels.
Grumblings from fans and media have begun permeating through the blogosphere. Most of which point to coach Butch Davis' 16-16 record at Carolina as not worthy of a multimillion-dollar contract.
The frustrations UNC fans feel aren't unrealistic. The defense is there but sometimes is outschemed by opponents. The offense flashes potential but lacks consistency with an interception-prone quarterback.
Halfway through year three, though, Davis should not start 0-3 in conference play, especially with the talent he's brought to Chapel Hill.
To make matters worse, UNC's bowl prospects look bleak. Five games remain on the schedule and UNC must win three to reach the postseason. With UNC traveling to face the Virginia Tech Hokies, who are the fourth straight ACC opponent with a bye week before facing the Tar Heels, it might be time to label this game as a must win.
Not for Davis' career but for the season. Not reaching a bowl game would be seen as a huge step backward, especially with the progress of Duke under the direction of coach David Cutcliffe.
Not to mention all the money thrown at the football program per Davis' request. Seats have not been as full this season and fan enthusiasm is leveling off -- a dangerous line to be tiptoeing.
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Taking penalty after inconveniently-timed penalty, head-faking an offseason pick-up after ten games, going winless on the road, sending opponents to the hospital on stretchers and earning suspensions and league wide ire – is that what this new, tougher Hurricanes team is all about?
At first, it seemed like growing pains. One got the sneaking suspicion that this team was actually very good, but was still getting its sea legs. However, ten games into the season, it might be time to start worrying.
The overtime game-winner in the Minnesota game seemed to say it all. After Joni Pitkanen took a penalty with less than two minutes left and the game slipping into overtime, the ‘Canes allowed Greg Zanon to walk in unchecked. Cam Ward came lurching out of the net, ready to make a spectacular save and keep the ‘Canes in it, as he is wont to do. Niclas Wallin missed his mark completely and watched as Cal Clutterbuck easily tucked the puck into the vacated net. Another point, gift-wrapped.
The ‘Canes have won two games so far and neither have come on the road. Carolina hasn’t discriminated – it lost to the second-worst team in the league, the New York Islanders, in a shootout and the best team in the Western Conference, the Colorado Avalanche, on the same road trip. Despite this, it walked away with two of a possible eight points on that road trip due to a handful of overtime losses.