After last week’s ACC win against Syracuse, the No. 20 Wolfpack takes on the Tar Heels in Raleigh for the long-awaited showdown of the season.
NC State (8-3, 5-2 ACC) is not only looking to secure a spot in the ACC Championship, but also to beat one of its biggest rivals this weekend. The Tar Heels have beaten the Pack in the last two matchups between the teams, but with the momentum NC State is riding on, the Tar Heels need to look out.
“I’m excited that we’re playing [UNC],” said head coach Dave Doeren. “I’m excited about what the game means. It’s a unique rivalry as close as we are and all the things that go along with it.”
UNC has been hit or miss this season with conference matchups, going 6-5 overall and 3-4 versus ACC teams. The Tar Heels are coming off a win against Wofford, however, it is worth noting that they are winless on the road this season. If this remains the case this weekend, UNC’s outing at Carter-Finley will not be pretty.
Quarterback Sam Howell, who had played every game since 2019, missed this past weekend’s matchup due to an upper body injury from the week before. Howell not playing last week was a gametime decision, which likely is what will happen again.
“I anticipate him playing, that guy's had a heck of a career,” Doeren said. “Sam Howell, man, he's a fierce competitor, he’s tough. He's done a great job running the football and has always thrown it well. He's been a big threat for them with his feet.”
If Howell does not return for this game, NC State will be in luck. UNC’s backups held their own against Wofford, but against an on-fire Wolfpack defense, they will be given a lot of trouble. Jacolby Criswell and Drake Maye took Howell’s spot this past weekend against Wofford, putting up 214 passing yards combined, one rushing touchdown and one passing score. The best case scenario for the NC State defense is obviously for Howell not to play, because then the unit will have to combat both him and a strong rushing game by UNC.
UNC’s rush game is no joke, being third in the ACC for total number of rush yards and second in the ACC for rushing touchdowns. Running back Ty Chandler stands out the most on this squad, putting up 78 yards of the team’s 305 rushing yards last weekend. Chandler leads the team with a net 1004 yards rushed this season, 13 scores and 91.3 yards per game on average.
“Their tailback, the transfer [Ty] Chandler from Tennessee, is over 1,000 yards,” Doeren said. “He’s playing well and definitely has speed back there.”
The Tar Heels defense has only recorded 21 sacks this season and 11 interceptions. Against the Wolfpack offense, this unit’s going to have a hard time keeping NC State back. Linebacker Cedric Gray leads the team in tackles, while linebacker Tomon Fox leads the team in sacks.
While the outcome of the game could go either way, NC State fans have been looking forward to this matchup since the very beginning of this season and the energy in Carter Finley this Friday is going to be electric. This final regular season matchup will be at 7 p.m. at Carter Finley stadium on Friday Nov. 26. The game will be broadcast on ESPN.