Rivalry Showdown: UNC at State, no motivation needed
The red streamers in North Carolina’s locker room were back this week, as were red signs with N.C. State’s motto and promotional slogan: “THIS IS OUR STATE.”
The decorations belied the UNC coaching staff’s claim that it approaches every game the same way (don’t expect orange streamers next week when Virginia comes to Chapel Hill). Then again, Tar Heel senior Kareem Martin said the signs were unnecessary.
“It doesn’t take much to motivate guys to want to beat this team,” Martin said.
UNC broke a five-game losing streak against the Wolfpack last year, when Giovani Bernard scored the winning points on a punt return with 13 seconds left. Now the Tar Heels look to end an eight-year losing streak in Raleigh when the Triangle rivals square off today at Carter-Finley Stadium (12:30 p.m., WRAL).
“We’re going to approach it like it’s any other team,” Martin said. “But I have a feeling the players are going to be a lot more focused, taking a lot more time in the film room and working a little harder on the practice field just to get better because it’s going to mean a little something more.”
UNC coach Larry Fedora said rivalry games are what make college football great.
“The fans, the hatred from one or another… that’s what’s fun about college football, it really is,” Fedora said. “Just the excitement that rivalries give.”
Tar Heels tight end Eric Ebron tried to do his part to add fuel last Saturday, writing in a Twitter message: “All Of These Wolfpack Fans Are In For RUDE AWAKENING Come Saturday!”
But no one on N.C. State would volley back, and the UNC coaching staff prevented Ebron from speaking with the media during the week.
“We don’t want to add any fuel to the fire,” offensive coordinator Blake Anderson said. “We know what this game’s about. We want to do our talking on the field.”
In fact, senior quarterback Bryn Renner was downright complimentary about the environment at N.C. State. Renner’s only previous start at Carter-Finley may have been the worst game of his career — he suffered a concussion in the first half and UNC was shut out in Raleigh for the first time since 1921.
“It was really loud and they have a great atmosphere, you have to give them credit for that,” Renner said. “I remember when we came out it was electric. They always pack it out and it’s going to be a great atmosphere for us.”
That should continue, even though both teams are in the midst of disappointing conference seasons. While N.C. State (3-4, 0-4) is still seeking its first ACC win under first-year coach Dave Doeren, UNC (2-5, 1-3) finally got on the board last Saturday with a 34-10 win over Boston College as the defense allowed the fewest points to an ACC opponent in three years.
Martin said the key was gang-tackling and getting everyone to the ballcarrier.
“We can’t just count on one guy to be successful,” Martin said. “Our best games (are) when you freeze the film you have nine guys around the ball. That’s the kind of defense we have to be — swarming and attacking and everyone around the ball.”
The Tar Heels hope last week’s game provided a turning point for the season. The offense has looked better in recent weeks (despite the continuing inability to run the ball consistently) and the defense has created turnovers while cutting down on the number of big plays it allows. Now UNC must prove it can do those things in a hostile environment.
“It boils down to, ‘How do you handle it?’” Fedora said. “Do you go out there and lose your mind? Or do you focus and do your job and… make decisions under duress? And that’s when your mental toughness shows up.”