CHAPEL HILL, N.C. –– Campbell was the perfect get right game for the Tar Heels as they looked to rectify their shortcomings against Virginia and Georgia Tech, but now they need to strategize as they face a tough three-game slate to finish out the regular season.
On Saturday, North Carolina will have a rivalry showdown against Duke (6-3, 3-2 ACC), who is coming off a 24-21 win against Wake Forest.
“I’m a Mike Elko fan,” said UNC head coach Mack Brown of Duke’s second-year coach. “I like him. I like his toughness. I’ve known him for many years and he’s very smart. I’m impressed with what he’s done and how he runs the program.”
With UNC and Duke, it’s always expected to be a physical and emotionally-grueling game. But this time, there’s even more at stake.
Besides deciding who will claim ownership of the victory bell—an honor that currently belongs to the Tar Heels—this game is also a crucial step in vying for a berth in the ACC title game. The league scrapped divisions and now the two teams with the highest winning percentages across the 15-member squad will meet on Dec. 2nd. The Florida State Seminoles have already secured their spot, however, UNC is trapped in a four-way tie in the conference sitting behind Louisville in the race for second place.
The key to keeping the victory bell this weekend and getting to Charlotte next month is taking care of business early in all three matchups. UNC’s most formidable opponent will be Clemson. And while the Tigers have had a streaky season, they still have the advantage over the Tar Heels especially after shutting UNC out 39-10 in last year’s championship game.
While UNC boasts a stellar offense, Brown admitted that Duke’s defensive scheme has improved under Elko.
“I think their defense is better this year than it was last year,” he said. “Mike’s done a tremendous job coaching them. They’re well coached, their front… [DeWayne] Carter is as good as anybody in the country. They get in the right gaps. They play with leverage. They’re fast. It’ll be a real challenge for us this weekend.”
In 2021, the Blue Devils went 3-9 overall (0-8 ACC) and the games weren’t close. However, once Elko arrived the following year the defense changed radically. In 2022, Duke went 9-4 (5-3 ACC). And so far this season they’ve done an exceptional job of closing their opponents with dominative wins over both Clemson (28-7) and NC State (24-3). Like the Tar Heels, they suffered a two-game losing skid against FSU and Louisville.
UNC must prepare to go against third string rookie quarterback Jake Loftis who will make his 2nd consecutive start. Starting quarterback Riley Leonard has suffered a slew of injuries, including a high ankle sprain against Notre Dame on Sept. 30. He is now dealing with a left toe injury he sustained against Louisville on Oct. 28. Backup quarterback Henry Belin IV is out with an upper-body injury.
UNC has won four straight over Duke, with Nov. 10, 2018 marking the last time they lost. However, theb last two matchups have come down to the last play of the game.
“We have to come to play,” Brown said. “We can’t really concern ourselves about who shows up or how they are when they show up. I do know we’ve got the three most emotional games in a row here too. We didn’t get any favors with the schedule, but we’re going to have to be really tough mentally and physically to be able to handle this stretch.”
Who: North Carolina (7-2, 3-2 ACC) vs. Duke (6-3, 3-2 ACC)
When: Saturday, November 11th, 8:00 p.m. ET
Where: Kenan Stadium, Chapel Hill, NC
Last Meeting: UNC, 38-35
ACC Series: UNC leads 53-35
All-Time: UNC leads the series 64-40