If you’re North Carolina’s head coach, it’s generally not a good idea to lose to Duke.
For two full decades, Tar Heels coaches managed to avoid that lowly fate. The Blue Devils beat UNC just once from 1990-2011, and that was a 30-22 decision in which Duke held on for dear life to beat a 2-10 North Carolina team. Larry Fedora, though, hasn’t enjoyed that same success. Facing no doubt a much different Blue Devils program than his Carolina predecessors, Fedora is 0-2 against Duke.
In 2012 North Carolina dropped a 33-30 game, allowing Duke to register a game-winning touchdown pass with 13 seconds to go. The loss snapped a four-game winning streak for the Tar Heels, and sent Duke to its first bowl game since (seemingly) the Mesozoic era. Last year, the Heels dropped another heartbreaker, 27-25, after Marquise Williams was intercepted with under 20 seconds to go while driving at midfield for a potential game-winning field goal. The loss slunk North Carolina to 6-6 and lifted Duke into the ACC title game.
And now we get to tonight, where not much has changed since last season. Duke is again the class of the ACC Coastal, needing wins tonight and next week against Wake Forest to clinch a rematch with Florida State for the conference championship, and North Carolina is once again sitting right on the nose of mediocrity. Fedora’s bunch started the season ranked 23rd by the AP and Coaches’ polls, and enter tonight at 5-5 – and 15-13 since that first loss to Duke in 2012. The Heels are six-point underdogs tonight in Durham, and a loss sends them into a toss-up game with N.C. State for bowl eligibility.
The 2014 North Carolina defense might as well call themselves the Achilles Heels, because they haven’t stopped much of anyone this season. After ranking 39th in yards per play and 43rd in scoring defense a year ago, North Carolina places 125th – fourth from the bottom – in scoring defense and 121st in yards per play allowed. East Carolina dropped 70 on this group on Sept. 20, and Clemson hit half a hundred a week later. Half of North Carolina’s 10 opponents have scored at least 40 points and all of them, even FCS Liberty, have scored at least 27 points.
Fedora’s teams can always score, though, and this one is no different. The Tar Heels rank 20 spots ahead of Duke in scoring average, and a shootout figures to favor North Carolina and its gun slinger Marquise Williams over Duke and Anthony Boone.
North Carolina has not lost to Duke three years in a row since Steve Spurrier patrolled the opposite sideline in Durham, and before that it hadn’t happened since the 1950’s. It would befit Fedora to avoid repeating history tonight.
As this video from last week’s win over Pittsburgh shows, Fedora started moving on to tonight’s game nearly immediately after the win over the Panthers was secure.