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Thursday, November 5, 2009

UNC-Duke preview: Triangle Offense writers debate which Blue is better

Posted by on Thu, Nov 5, 2009 at 7:25 PM

Battle for the Victory Bell

North Carolina (5-3) vs. Duke (5-3)

[3:30 p.m., Nov. 7, Kenan Memorial Stadium]

Televised by ESPNU

click to enlarge The Tar Heels will battle to defend the Victory Bell, but can they stop Duke's three-game winning streak? (File photo by Rob Rowe)
  • The Tar Heels will battle to defend the Victory Bell, but can they stop Duke's three-game winning streak? (File photo by Rob Rowe)

What stat stands out most?

Mike Potter: Two on the Blue Devils' side. Thaddeus Lewis and backup Sean Renfree have combined to complete 67.4 percent of their passes with 19 touchdowns and five interceptions. And Duke has outscored the opposition 87-44 in the fourth quarter.

Jacob Swiger:  Duke averages around 75 yards per game on the ground -- good for 116th in the country -- still, the Blue Devils have put together their best season in recent memory.  Will facing the No. 18th-ranked defense against the run set up more third-and-long situations?  Will it even matter with the way Lewis is throwing the ball?  In two of Duke's three losses this season, the Blue Devils couldn't gain more than 38 rushing yards (19 against Richmond, 38 against Virginia Tech).  Don't expect the rushing numbers to be much different against UNC.

Which player from the opposing team should scare Duke/UNC the most?

Mike: This starts the broken record. Thaddeus Lewis. A good quarterback from last year has turned into a great one this year. This Duke team has numerous weapons on both sides of the ball and the Blue Devils can win with a collective defensive effort, but as Reggie Jackson once said, Lewis is the "straw that stirs the drink."

Jake:  Defensive end Robert Quinn  could end up being the MVP of this game.  Quinn, a speedy sophomore, has been quiet the past few games and is due for at least a sack or two if Lewis takes too long in the pocket.  Combined with the rest of the talented defensive front, the Blue Devils' offensive line will have their hands full.

click to enlarge Blue Devil senior quarterback Thaddeus Lewis looks for his first victory against the Tar Heels. (File photo by Rob Rowe)
  • Blue Devil senior quarterback Thaddeus Lewis looks for his first victory against the Tar Heels. (File photo by Rob Rowe)

Better city, Chapel Hill or Durham?

Mike: The operative word here is city, and Durham and Raleigh are the only two cities in the Triangle. Chapel Hill may be America's finest pure college town, but a city it isn't. Durham had two universities and one pro team win national championships. Who else can match that? Los Angeles, maybe? The Bull City is one of the most diverse and culturally advanced places of its size in the nation. And if you've been keeping up over the years, things seem to happen in Durham that could not occur anywhere else. Am I right? To borrow a quote from a fence sign touting The Incredible Shrinking Herald-Sun in the early '80s at historic Durham Athletic Park, Durham is a place "where occurrences occur daily."

Jake: Fine.  Go after the wording of my question.  If we are talking places, Chapel Hill is hard to beat.  A fine downtown area combined with the beautiful game-day experiences in both Kenan (cough, not counting wins) and the Smith Center (you can count wins here) draws at least one deep sigh of appreciation per visit.  As most Chapel Hillians will tell you, something in the air makes this place wedge into the hearts of those that call it home -- which is what nauseates outsiders the most.  As my high school physics teacher says about Carolina, have fun "reading poetry by the Well."

Is UNC the best defense Duke has faced this season?

Mike: There's no question the Tar Heels are good. But Duke may have one of the best offenses in the country, and just won on the road at Virginia. It's no secret Duke won't try to run for 200 yards. Lewis has become very adept at finding second and third receivers and avoiding mistakes. But if the Tar Heels sack him six times the way Virginia did, UNC probably wins.

Jake:  Far and away, yes, UNC is the best defense Duke has faced -- and the defense found its mojo making big plays against the Hokies.  Virginia Tech, the other impressive defense the Devils have played, is speedy but has shown a lack of discipline, especially against the run.  The Heels not only stop the run but have been excellent against the pass minus one half against the No. 13th-ranked quarterback in passing efficiency (Christian Ponder).

Will Lewis pull a Ponder and torch UNC's vaunted secondary?

Mike: That will be one of the best mini-battles of the day, to be sure. He was very successful against Virginia's vaunted secondary, and really has been on fire for five weeks. The word "underrated" is used far too much and I'm not helping, but that said Lewis may be the nation's most underrated college quarterback. He won't pass for 500 yards and five touchdowns, but 300 yards and three touchdowns should be enough for Duke to win.

Jake:  He may torch the secondary for large amounts of yards but that won't be enough to beat UNC if Lewis is stuck in third-and-long the entire game.  Ponder has a couple advantages over Lewis -- a running threat and electric receivers.  UNC's defense is athletic enough to prevent Duke receivers from hitting holes in the zone defense like Florida State did, and it seems unlikely Lewis will have as much time in the pocket.

Who has the coaching edge?

Mike: Duke by a nose. David Cutcliffe turned one of the nation's worst programs respectable last season and has now made it a winner. He and his staff have also built a second-half football team that gets better as the game goes on.

Jake:  UNC but not because of the head coach.  Although Butch Davis is undefeated against the Blue Devils during his UNC tenure, his strengths aren't in-game adjustments and management.  The last two games for the Heels, however, have shown improvements in offensive design and playcalling by coordinator John Shoop -- and with the extra time to prepare, I fully expect more wrinkles that will keep Lewis off the field.  Shoop scripted a confusing array of running plays against the Seminoles and Hokies, and the offense thrived off confusing the defense with motion before the snap.

Who wins this one?

Mike: Duke, 27-24. The Blue Devils just might be on a destiny roll. It's November and Duke is still eligible for a BCS bowl. Who on earth would have predicted a thing like that?

Jake:  UNC, 28-21.  It's tempting to pick the Blue Devils, but UNC's defense will be the difference Saturday.  Duke's inability to run the ball and turnovers forced by UNC will give T.J. Yates and John Shoop more possessions to chew up clock and keep Lewis from going crazy.

click to enlarge If Duke wins this weekend, the Georgia Tech @ Duke contest will determine the leader of the Coastal Division - can the Blue Devils keep their winning streak going? (File photo by Rob Rowe)
  • If Duke wins this weekend, the Georgia Tech @ Duke contest will determine the leader of the Coastal Division - can the Blue Devils keep their winning streak going? (File photo by Rob Rowe)

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