UNC Beat: (State)

She’s cute … but we’ll bet she talks a lot of smack on Twitter.

Talk may be cheap, but it sure can be a lot of fun.  And regardless of the sport, there is plenty of talk any time North Carolina and North Carolina State get together.  While the football and basketball contests in the rivalry have been one-sided of late, there have been plenty of barbs traded over the past five years between North Carolina and NC State, from the coaches to the students.

In 2008, the two schools exchanged more paint than some NASCAR drivers.  Before a February 2008 basketball contest, red paint found its way onto the Old Well at the University of North Carolina at Chapel HIll.  This led to a group of UNC students painting NC State’s Free Expression Tunnel blue the week before their football game in November … which led to Wolfpack fans returning the favor after NC State won said football game by a resounding 41-10 score for a second consecutive win against the Tar Heels.

2009 was a struggle for the Wolfpack.  Suffering from innumerable injuries, including an offseason automobile accident that sidelined linebacker Nate Irving for the season, as well as offensive coordinator Dana Bible suffering from leukemia, NC State had every reason to limp into a season-ending contest with the Tar Heels.  Instead, Russell Wilson threw for four touchdowns and Alan-Michael Cash blocked a critical field goal to lead NC State to a 28-27 upset of then-24th-ranked North Carolina.

Jarvis Williams, who caught two of Wilson’s four touchdown passes in that 2009 game, was feeling good about things entering 2010.  After all, he and his fellow seniors were now 3-0 against North Carolina.  With three months to spare before their meeting, the wide receiver said in a radio interview, “You know, I’m getting the hang of beating UNC. We’re trying to take it out of being called a rival.  We get them this year, that’ll be four in a row. That there says it’s not a rival game anymore. We’re trying to dominate every time.”  This doesn’t sound similar to Dexter Strickland’s recent comments regarding the basketball rivalry at all! But I digress…

Bold talk before the season ever started?  Perhaps.  Nonetheless, the Wolfpack prevailed 29-25, as NC State erased a 19-10 deficit with a tip-drill catch by Owen Spencer and an 87-yard punt return by T.J. Graham.

Before the 2011 contest, it was the coaches who sparred verbally leading up to the game. Butch Davis had taken the stance of treating this game publically as another one of twelve on the schedule, but his successor, interim head coach Everett Withers, wanted no part of such coachspeak.  This was great in two ways: It sparked some new life into the rivalry, and it allowed the terms “flagship” (Withers’ stance on North Carolina’s place in the state’s educational hierarchy) and “triple play” (NC State coach Tom O’Brien’s evaluation of North Carolina’s ongoing NCAA investigation) to enter the collective Tobacco Road lexicon.  The result was nothing new, though: The Wolfpack shut out the Tar Heels, taking their fifth in a row by the score of 13-0.

Larry Fedora has embraced the State rivalry in his first year at UNC.

This year, the gamesmanship continues.  In April, Larry Fedora said he didn’t wish to speak at length about NC State out of fear he might “legitimize” the Wolfpack program … while giving an exact, to-the-day countdown to their October 27 meeting.  This week, the primary color of that illegitimate program infiltrated the Tar Heel locker room, thanks to none other than Fedora and his staff.

Hopefully for Tar Heel fans, the squad didn’t need this motivational ploy to see red heading into Saturday’s game.  If the five-year slide isn’t enough to drive the Tar Heels this week, then a 33-30 loss at Duke last weekend, in which North Carolina was largely outplayed for the better part of the contest, should add some heat to the fire.

In that game, Duke rushed for 246 yards against a defense that had previously allowed fewer than 100 rushing yards per game, led by a 99-yard night from sophomore Josh Snead.

Even the Tar Heels’ miracle fourth-quarter rally nearly fell apart, as Erik Highsmith fumbled running after a deep pass and catch … only for Giovani Bernard to scoop up the loose ball and score.  Even with Lady Luck apparently perched on the Tar Heel sideline of Wallace Wade Stadium, the Blue Devils scored a go-ahead touchdown with 13 seconds remaining to gain bowl eligibility and snap a rivalry drought of their own.

There’s no doubt that the Tar Heels will be reminded of this all week long.  They’ll know about the 0-5 drought, the loss last week, and any other pertinent information (or bulletin board material) that develops this week.  However, the exact same thing is true in the opposing locker room for a team that narrowly escaped a road contest with Maryland last week with a win.

Talk is cheap and desire can only go so far.  Saturday will be the time to execute. The team that executes better will come away with the victory and the pride that comes with it.  After all, that pride goes a long way in talking up next year’s game.

ZACH’S THREE STARS

First Star – Giovani Bernard: Yeah, I know, I swore off “starring” Gio, but he rushed for nearly 150 yards and had to have been hustling downfield to make that bizarre go-ahead touchdown happen.  Go ahead, young fellow.

Second Star – Esben Hess-Olesen: Sophomore Esben Hess-Olesen defeated Elon’s Cameron Silverman to claim the Intercollegiate Tennis Association Carolina Regional singles’ champion. He will play in the ITA Indoor Championship in New York November 8-11.

Third Star – My calendar: Anyone who knows me understands that I care about baseball a little more than most.  So it was with great joy to my heart that the 2013 baseball schedule for the Tar Heels was released last week.  The season will open February 15 at 3:00 PM against St. John’s.

 

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Zach Evans is brilliantZach Evans is a student at the University of North Carolina and a lifelong fan of the Tar Heels and follower of the ACC. Outside of the ACC, Zach is also a fan of the Atlanta Braves, the Carolina Hurricanes, the Carolina Panthers, and bad puns. He includes nailing the Final Four in his 2009 NCAA Tournament group and batting .000 during the 2011 intramural softball season among his crowning achievements. For more commentary, follow Zach on Twitter at @ztevans.

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