Buck: The Heels had maybe their best game of the season last Saturday, and the Pack had perhaps its worst. This might be a must-win for Tom O’Brien, who puts a lot of emphasis on beating North Carolina. This would be a huge win for Everett Withers. Do we all tend to put too much emphasis on these intangible factors, week-in, week-out, in terms of their relevance to what we’ll see at Saturday’s games?
Quincy Monk: I think you can throw out all the records, factors, and relevance leading up this game. This is a huge rivalry and I think it’s not going to matter how State played last week. In my book, this is a chance for UNC to get the monkey of its back. Losing four years in a row to NC State is a tough pill to swallow. However I think this team won’t take this game lightly. I expect UNC to come out aggressive, confident and ready to dominate this game.
Mark Paschal: All week we will hear about Tom O’Brien and how he is 4-0 against the Tar Heels and how this is a must win game. I really don’t think any of that will have an effect on the outcome of the game. Once the ball is kicked off, none of those things matter and the best team, on that Saturday, will win.
Scott Lenahan: Sometimes the intangibles are viable reasons but this week things are a bit different. It’s the biggest rivalry of the year for us. There are more instances of penalties, cheap shots and “giving somebody the business” then any other game this year. I don’t think that the coaches need to place emphasis on this week because the players already know this game is for the bragging rights of not only around town, but for the state. No doubt this game would be important for Coach Withers, since he hasn’t had a win against them since being here, but I think this is even bigger for our school and its fans. After all that has transpired of the past few years I know that this would help morale amongst our fans and be a nice feather in our cap.
Buck: The Tar Heels face one of the most dangerous return men in the ACC in T.J. Graham; how do teams prepare for specific special teams players like Graham? Practice kicking the ball away from him? How do you game plan for a return man like this? The Tar Heels did a pretty good job against Clemson’s Sammy Watkins in the return game, can they duplicate that effort against Graham?
Mark: I had the opportunity to try and chase around Devin Hester when he was at Miami on both punt and kickoff teams. All week, you realize how dangerous he was in both phases of the kicking game. I do not think that T.J. Graham is Devin Hester, but the guy is pretty talented. Obviously coaches game plan for players like this. You will see some ‘sky’ kickoffs and punts angled out of bounds. We cannot give up a big play in the kicking game.
Scott: There are a few different ways you can game plan for a dangerous return man like squib kicking it, kicking it short or just kicking it to the opposite side of him. But ultimately it boils down to the coaches placing extra emphasis on watching film and making sure that everyone is disciplined this week; meaning each person needs to stay in their lanes and funnel everything to the middle. I thought we did a great job against Clemson and have been most of the year. Pete Mangum really stood out to me against Clemson -- it seemed like on kickoffs he was in on every tackle. Hopefully he can missile down the field and have the same production against State.
Quincy: T.J. Graham is a great returner with his athleticism and his world-class speed. In an effort to isolate him from changing the momentum with one of his returns, we should definitely try to kick away from him if possible. We did a good job with the effort we made against Clemson’s Sammy Watkins, so I expect to see a similar strategy on Saturday.
Buck: N.C. State’a defensive numbers seem to point to an aggressive style of play. They’ve picked off 16 passes this year, but they have still given up 242 passing yards per game on average, and opponents have thrown 13 touchdown passes against them. They are third in the ACC in sacks per game, but give up 166 yards per game rushing. How would you contrast their defensive approach to what North Carolina tries to do defensively?
Scott: I haven’t watched much of State this year, but it sounds like statistically they are a blitz heavy team. In which case you live by the blitz and die by the blitz. Anytime you take on this mindset, your defense will come up with big plays. On the same note, you make yourself susceptible to being gashed for a huge play. For most of the season we’ve been on the opposite end of the spectrum and not blitzing much if at all. I’m glad that recently we’ve been able to change this mentality and bring more pressure on teams.
Quincy: How you beat a team like NC State, which thrives on being the aggressor, is to duplicate the aggressiveness. We can take advantage by stretching the field vertically with our receivers who shouldn’t be stopped by any of State’s secondary. I expect our offense to keep State off-balance with play action plays and throwing the ball deep, which will only help keep State back on their “Heels.”
Mark: We were much more aggressive this past weekend against a talented passing attack in Wake Forest and I think that is when our defense is at their best. State has a couple of very talented defensive guys who have made plays for them (Amerson is a heck of a player) and have created turnovers and big plays for them of defense. We need our big play guys on defense to continue to press and make plays and we need to put pressure on the offense with pressure on third down.
Buck: N.C. State’s offense just isn’t the same without Russell Wilson this year. North Carolina’s offense isn’t the same with Gio Bernard. How does the absence of Wilson and the presence of Bernard on their respective teams change the dynamics of these two offenses?
Mark: Russell Wilson was one of the best players I have ever played against. He was NC State’s offense and made that offense go. He could create with his feet and as a defense it is very hard to prepare for someone as talented as him with the combination of arm and legs. Gio is the backbone of this offense right now. When we establish a running game with Gio, we have been pretty successful.
Scott: State definitely lost a great player in Russell Wilson and had he stayed I’m sure their season would be a different story. But their loss is our gain. I think that having Gio at running back is huge part of our offensive success. He’s an extremely dynamic player and does so many different things with the football. Our offense is built partly off selling the play-action pass and hitting our receiver’s for big chunks of yardage. In order to be successful doing that, you’ve got to be able to run the ball. Well, this year I feel like we’ve been able to establish the run when Gio is healthy. Not only does Gio open our offense up, but I think he helps take some of the pressure off Renner in not making him feel like he is the sole provider for us being successful offensively. He’s a special kid and I hope that he stays healthy.
Quincy: The absence of Russell Wilson is a major factor that we should take advantage of. During the previous three years, he’s made miraculous plays that caused us much grief. We have a similar X-factor in Gio. He has the ability to single-handedly change the outcome of the game with his playmaking ability. I’m looking forward to Gio having a big game and being that X-factor for us.
Buck: After going O’fer against Tom O’Brien during his tenure at N.C. State, what would a win over the Pack do for the morale of this UNC team?
Scott: It would be one step closer to building the football program in which we’ve been trying to build at Carolina. Also, beating State would be something that these seniors have never done before. I know it would special for them and give them something to be proud of. Plus, on a side note, there is nothing more annoying than hearing the Wolfpack howl after every first down. Something about it really bothers me. I don’t know if that’s the rivalry speaking or if it’s truly that absurd. I hope that Saturday we keep the howling to a minimum and we are able to take the quick bus ride back home victorious and without that ringing in our ears.
Quincy: In my opinion this is a must win for the Heels, simply because of the fact we lost to State the past four years. I like the mentality of Coach Withers and how he’s expressed the importance of this game. This heated rivalry goes back several decades, and I think the mentality of this year’s team in regards to this game is what you like to see as a former player. Beating the Pack will only help with the morale, and help the younger guys understand that is a game that we should always win.
Mark: Morale is probably pretty high after the blowout-win against Wake but beating State in Raleigh would be huge for the team and the Carolina fan base. There is no reason we shouldn’t be able to close this year out on a very high note and it starts this Saturday in Raleigh.
(Note: Deems May was unavailable this week to participate in the Roundtable.)
Scott Lenahan manned the center position in Chapel Hill from 2003-07, overlapping two coaching regimes. Nicknamed 'Tank' for his weight room exploits, he earned the top senior honor on the '07 Tar Heel team.
Deems May excelled at tight end for UNC and was drafted in 1992, playing eight seasons in the NFL. He's since become a fan favorite for his candid commentary on the Tar Heel Sports Network.
Quincy Monk recorded 247 tackles at linebacker during his Tar Heel career from 1998-2001. He was drafted into the NFL and spent three seasons in the professional ranks.
Mark Paschal was a team captain for the Tar Heels in 2008. As a middle linebacker, he led the team in tackles prior to a career-ending injury and didn't miss a game in his career up until that point.