North Carolina will be looking to rebound from a frustrating defeat and salvage some pride Friday to close out the 2022 regular season.
The Atlantic Coast Conference’s Coastal Division champion saw its high-powered offense stymied and hopes to crack the national Top 10 rankings disappear in a 21-17 upset loss against Georgia Tech. The Tar Heels (9-2, 6-1), who were averaging 40 points a game, were shut out in the second half and squandered a 17-point lead against a team they were favored to beat by 20.
The result saw UNC slide from 11th to 17th in the latest USA Today Sports AFCA Coaches poll and prompted questions about this team’s mental toughness as the regular season comes to a close.
The Tar Heels should have extra incentive to bounce back with arch-rival NC State (7-4, 3-4) coming to Chapel Hill for a 3:30 p.m. game. The Wolfpack dealt UNC one of its harshest defeats in the 111 meetings between the teams a year ago in Raleigh by scoring two touchdowns in just 26 seconds to complete a miracle comeback, 34-30.
Here’s what to know about this year’s N.C. State-UNC matchup and a score prediction.
RIVALRY GAME:UNC football shouldn’t have any trouble finding motivation to beat NC State
ACC POWER RANKINGS:ACC football power rankings: Shaking up the top 10 after UNC , NC State losses
FRUSTRATING LOSS:UNC football stumbles on brink of history with stunning loss to Georgia Tech
WAR OF WORDS
Through the years, there have been plenty of “bulletin board” comments from both sides of the rivalry. But none occurred earlier than this year when UNC quarterback Drake Maye hurled a dig at N.C. State during a press conference back in September.
When asked if the success in 2019 of his predecessor, Sam Howell, caused him to change his commitment from Alabama to North Carolina, Maye’s response caused a frenzy on social media.
“Yeah, one hundred percent. I didn’t want to miss out on my home state,” Maye said. “Whether you want to admit it or not, growing up in (North) Carolina, you’re going to be a Carolina fan. Some people may say State, but really, people who go to State just can’t get into Carolina.”
Three hours later, Maye issued an apology via Twitter post: “I said it as a joke but it was inappropriate. I feel bad and need to do a better job representing our program and this University.”
Despite the apology, you can bet Maye’s comments have been replayed or posted somewhere in NC State’s home at the Murphy Center this week.
MAYE MOUTHS OFF:UNC football QB Drake Maye apologizes after taking a jab at NC State
NO APOLOGY NEEDED:NC State’s Payton Wilson says UNC QB Drake Maye shouldn’t apologize for rivalry jab
HIGHLY-RATED UNITS COLLIDE
The game will feature the Atlantic Coast Conference’s top offensive team in North Carolina and one of the best defenses in NC State.
The Tar Heels lead the ACC in scoring offense (38.0), total offense (492.7 yards a game) and passing offense (328.9). They are also ranked 13th, tied for 8th and sixth respectively in those categories.
The Wolfpack, led by ACC Defensive Player of the Year candidate Drake Thomas at linebacker, is second among league squads in scoring defense (18.7) and fourth in total defense (324.4).
BIG-PLAY GREEN RETURNS
North Carolina was without big-play senior receiver Antoine Green in last week’s loss against Georgia Tech, and his absence proved significant.
Green missed the Tech game with an upper body injury. The injury not only cost UNC its second-leading receiver (30 catches, 678 yards, 6 TDs, 22.6 yards-per-catch average), but it allowed the Yellow Jackets to pay extra attention to Biletnikoff Award semifinalist Josh Downs.
The result saw Downs, who had more than 100 yards receiving in five of his six previous games, limited to three catches for 31 yards. UNC will need Downs and Green to get back on track to stress the NC State secondary.
PREVENT THE SACK
UNC quarterback Drake Maye experienced his worst passing game of the season against Georgia Tech (16-30, 202 yards). Part of Maye’s struggles can be attributed to the pressure applied by the Yellow Jackets, who sacked him a season-high six times.
Protecting Maye has been an issue over the last five games for the Tar Heels, who have surrendered 18 sacks for minus 120 yards. UNC quarterbacks have been sacked 32 times on the season.
North Carolina 34, NC State 21: The Tar Heels and Maye get back on track against a Wolfpack team that has struggled to generate offense since starting quarterback Devin Leary went down with an injury in October. UNC nets a 10th win and gathers some momentum for its date with Clemson in the ACC Championship game.