News & Observer sports columnist Luke DeCock and college football columnist Joe Giglio debate some of the big issues surrounding Thursday night’s Duke-North Carolina football game.
1. Who does the short week help or hurt more?
Luke: North Carolina’s coming off a physical win over Pittsburgh, and I figure Duke will be itching to atone for its home loss to Virginia Tech, so I’d give the edge to the Devils here. Not to mention Duke has a deeper roster, especially on defense. That still feels odd to type.
Joe: This is not the NFL, I get that, but what’s happened in the NFL during these short weeks is the team with the best quarterback wins.
That would be Carolina’s Marquise Williams, who has had a hand in 28 (18 passing, 10 rushing) of his team’s 46 offensive touchdowns. That’s treading in Russell Wilson territory in terms of value to his team.
But does Duke’s coaching advantage and incentive for the Coastal title offset that, Luke?
Luke: It should, not to mention home-field advantage (the one game annually where that’s dramatic at Duke). And I would argue that in the NFL’s short weeks, the better team has typically won (usually with the better QB, but nevertheless). Objectively, it looks like Duke has the better team.
Joe: The crowd will be interesting. An 8-2 team in the hunt for a second straight division title, after decades of abysmal performances, deserves more support than its getting (announced average of 26,970 per game).
2. What do the Tar Heels have to do to end a two-game losing streak against Duke?
Joe: Keep it close, which has been easier said than done with UNC’s defense. But when you look at it, the Heels beat San Diego State (31-27), Georgia Tech (48-43), Virginia (28-27) and Pitt (40-35). The only game they lost that was decided by single digits was at Notre Dame (50-43), which actually might have been their best game of the season.
Luke: Absolutely, since since the Tar Heels aren’t going to stop people from scoring, they better outscore them. That puts quite an onus on the offense. As good as Williams has been, I’d still like to see Ryan Switzer and Quinshad Davis more involved. And I don’t think Duke’s dumb enough to kick it to Switzer, but that would certainly benefit the Tar Heels.
Joe: UNC is so much better on offense when it runs the football, either with Williams (team-leading 623 yards) or sophomore running back T.J. Logan. UNC’s two best wins – Georgia Tech and Pitt – coincide with the most usage of Logan. It’s not brain surgery.
3. What’s your level of confidence in Anthony Boone at this point?
Luke: Not high. Boone’s been at his worst in Duke’s losses, at Miami and at home Saturday to the Hokies. If the Tar Heels can stop Duke’s running game and force the Blue Devils to throw, even their defense may be able to force a turnover or two.
Joe: Here’s a stat for you: Boone has one 300-yard passing game in his career (427 vs. Texas A&M in the Peach Bowl last year). That’s one in 22 career starts. Brandon Connette, who started two games when Boone was hurt last season, threw for 323 and 324 yards in his only two career starts at Duke.
Your boy Connette, by the way, has four total touchdowns for a bad Fresno State team this season. He had 27 for Duke last season.
Luke: Connette, officially listed at RB and WR despite all his goal-line quarterback snaps at Duke, is a first-ballot ACC fantasy football Hall of Famer.
Earlier this season, I ranked Boone ahead of Williams among the in-state QBs and felt pretty adamant about that at the time. Boone was (and is) a proven winner, but there’s no ignoring his inaccuracy and bad decisions at this point. He has regressed. Williams, meanwhile, has taken great leaps forward with his game as the Tar Heels have placed the entire weight of the offense on his back. Clearly, Williams has the edge now