NC State football enters its final game of the regular season hoping for some upset magic against its most hated ACC rival.
The Wolfpack (7-4, 3-4 ACC) will travel to Chapel Hill to take on No. 18 UNC (9-2, 6-1) for a 3:30 p.m. kickoff Friday on ABC. The Tar Heels hold a 68-37-6 series record but it was NC State’s epic comeback last season at Carter-Finley Stadium – erasing a nine-point deficit in a span of 26 seconds late in the fourth quarter – that gave Wolfpack fans the last laugh.
UNC clinched the ACC’s Coastal Division title two weeks ago with a 36-34 win at Wake Forest but took its first conference loss last week, falling 21-17 to Georgia Tech at home. The defeat all but ended the dark horse Heisman campaign for redshirt freshman quarterback Drake Maye.
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Quarterback questions remain
The biggest question mark for NC State against UNC is who will be lining up under center on Saturday. That answer won’t be coming from coach Dave Doeren this week.
He was asked Monday if true freshman MJ Morris would be ready to play after missing last week’s 25-10 loss to Louisville with a lower-body injury or would former scout team quarterback Ben Finley or Jack Chambers get the start.
“I don’t have any answers on medical things for you, and I won’t talk about that this week,” Doeren said. “As far as Ben, Ben will play if that’s where we’re at, as will Jack (Chambers) and maybe both of ’em play. We’ll have to see how this week of practice goes, but, we got four days and it’s really nobody’s business what the health of the roster is right now.”
Doeren said after Louisville that Morris was “day-to-day” but that gives no real indication of whether he will play or not. It’s likely both Finley and Chambers will play against the Tar Heels even if it was Finley that gave his team the best chance to beat the Cardinals in the second half.
The third-year quarterback completed 16 of 35 passes for 201 yards and a third-quarter touchdown that cut UL’s lead to 13-10.
“That’s the most snaps I’ve ever gotten in a game,” Finley said after the 25-10 loss to the Cardinals. He sat the entire first quarter before taking over for Chambers. “I was just kind of getting that comfort. Those reps will definitely help me going into UNC. We have to go back and look and what we did in this game that was successful.”
Before Louisville, Finley’s most snaps came off the bench against UNC in 2020, completing 9-of-12 passes for 128 yards with a touchdown and an interception in the first half before coming back down to earth in the second half.
Depth chart doubts
NC State’s weekly depth chart hasn’t reflected the reality of its injury situation this season, but this week’s two-deep did clarify a few things.
Sixth-year center Grant Gibson is no longer listed on the depth chart after getting injured against Boston College two weeks ago as well as sophomore running back Demie Sumo-Karngbaye, who had 305 yards and three touchdowns on 55 attempts but has been seldom seen since Oct. 8 against Florida State.
Tight end Trent Pennix, linebacker Payton Wilson, defensive back Tyler Baker-Williams and wide receiver Devin Carter are all listed as starters this week after not playing against Louisville. Bear in mind, all four were listed as starters against the Cardinals.
The loss to Georgia Tech denied UNC coach Mack Brown a historic win that he can now earn against NC State.
A victory for UNC would be Brown’s 100th as the Tar Heels’ head coach. Brown collected 69 of those wins during his first tenure as UNC’s head coach from 1988 to 1997. Since his return in 2019, the Heels are 30-18 overall, including 9-1 this season.
Brown has 274 career victories overall, which is second among active coaches to Alabama’s Nick Saban (277). Those include 158 wins at Texas, 11 at Tulane and six at Appalachian State in addition to the 99 at UNC.
The Tar Heels also need to win two of their next three games to be the fifth team in school history to win 11 games in a season – NC State won’t want to be a footnote during UNC’s historic season.
Maye is human, we think
After entering the game against Georgia Tech with a 341.2 yards passing average after 10 games, UNC’s Maye threw for a season-low 202 yards as the Tar Heels were held scoreless in the second half.
For the first time this season, Maye did not throw a touchdown and was sacked six times in the loss. The Tar Heels had a chance to regain the lead late in the fourth quarter, but Josh Downs dropped a 4th-and-11 pass from Maye in the end zone with just over four minutes remaining.
Doeren was complimentary of Maye’s skills on Monday.
“You can see his competitive spirit when he plays,” Doeren said. “He’s accurate. He gets rid of the ball in time, throws a nice catchable football, he’s a really good quarterback.”
NC State vs. UNC score prediction
UNC 28, NC State 13: With so much uncertainty around the quarterback position and the many other injuries hampering the Wolfpack, UNC will bounce back on Saturday to earn its 10th win of the season.