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Friday, September 16, 2011

Duke, UNC get challenges while Wolfpack has an easy one

Posted by on Fri, Sep 16, 2011 at 10:09 AM

Duke will need to focus on offense against Boston College Saturday. Here, Brandon Connette scores a touchdown against Richmond two weeks ago.
  • File photo by Al Drago
  • Duke will need to focus on offense against Boston College Saturday. Here, Brandon Connette scores a touchdown against Richmond two weeks ago.

It’s Week 3 of the college football season, and so far the Triangle area’s three ACC teams have had mixed results.

Despite all the preseason problems resulting in the firing of former coach Butch Davis and the announcement of the retirement of athletic director Dickie Baddour, everything is going along swimmingly in Chapel Hill. The jury is still a bit out at N.C. State, where Mike Glennon is calling the signals while former quarterback Russell Wilson is starring at Wisconsin, while Duke keeps getting better but still needs to beat somebody to get positive attention.

David Cutcliffe’s Blue Devils (0-2) open ACC play on Saturday at 12:30, when they visit Boston College (0-2) and perhaps the conference’s best player in linebacker Luke Kuechly. The Eagles are listed as seven-point favorites.

Interim coach Everett Withers’ 2-0 Tar Heels will open conference play at home at 3:30 against Virginia (2-0) in the ACC opener for both teams. UNC is a 10-point favorite.

And in Raleigh at 6 p.m., Tom O’Brien’s Wolfpack (1-1) will try to recover from last week’s painful loss at Wake Forest when South Alabama (2-0) comes into a sold-out house. USA, which will be Division I-FBS in 2013, is in its third season of football but has never lost a game (19-0). State is the Jaguars’ first FBS level opponent, and the only available point spread is 25 ½. My gut feeling is that that’s low.

Cutcliffe says his team is getting better, although last week’s 11-14 loss to No. 6 Stanford wasn’t an opportunity to show it. If Duke can get a mild upset over the Eagles, believers might start raising their voices.

“I think our team is really trying to respond,” Cutcliffe said. “We’re oh-so-close yet so far away is how you would term what we’re dealing with. We have a lot of things that we believe win and lose games — specifically, the turnover margin, the sacks on a drive, explosive plays. I think the thing we need to do is point out solutions.

“So we’re not just sitting still, hoping we play better. I don’t want to be that kind of coach. We have a lot of things written down that we think are solutions. We should be a much better football team when we kick off in Chestnut Hill on Saturday, and we’re looking forward to opening conference play.”

UNC-UVa is the “South’s Oldest Rivalry,” of course. And Mike London’s Wahoos have been playing a little better than expected with an easy win over FCS power William & Mary and a road victory at Indiana in Week 2. Look back to my preseason preview in the print edition and this was the game I had said Withers needed to win to keep the hounds away. State already lost its similar game at Wake Forest and Duke its home game with Richmond.

“We lead the ACC in rushing defense and are third in the country, and we lead the league in sacks and we’re seventh in the country in sacks,” Withers said.

“And we lead the league in sacks allowed, which we have zero. This week is obviously the first ACC game that we will play this season and we consider it our opener. It’s the fifth oldest rivalry in the country. This is a game that is big for us and we need to get off to a good start in the ACC. One of our goals is to win the Coastal Division and we feel like we need to win our ACC games and that is a big issue for us. So it will be part of the emphasis this week.”

State needs to put on a show against the Jaguars
, who should be vastly outmanned in this one. USA will visit Carter-Finley again next season, while the Wolfpack will be the Jaguars’ 2015 opener at home. It’s Military Appreciation Day.

“South Alabama is a program that’s being built,” O’Brien said. “They have a lot of great speed. The offensive coordinator (Greg Gregory) was the guy who was at South Florida when we played them, so a lot of the same things out of that background that we’ve played before. Defensively they list themselves as a three down but for the first two games they’ve only had two guys with their hands on the ground.

“They have a lot of guys from Division I (FBS) schools coming back down. They’re undefeated (and) I don’t think they’ve ever been behind in a football game.”

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