No. 14 North Carolina bids to rebound vs. No. 23 NC State

Field Level Media

October 20, 2020 at 6:22 pm.

An annual matchup between North Carolina State and North Carolina always carries certain intrigue for the rivals.

This one, however, holds some extra zing.

For the first time in 27 years, both teams own spots in the national rankings when they meet. The clash comes Saturday afternoon in Chapel Hill, N.C.

“I think we’ve been overrated,” North Carolina coach Mack Brown said. “I think they’ve been underrated.”

The No. 14 Tar Heels (3-1 overall, 3-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) are coming off a 31-28 setback at Florida State, and they went tumbling nine spots in the polls following the loss.

No. 23 North Carolina State (4-1, 4-1) has won three games in a row. It will be only the third time ever that both teams are rated at the time they meet.

“I know how big this game is to NC State, former players, boosters, alums, all those things,” Wolfpack coach Dave Doeren said. “So I take a lot of pride in being able to deliver that to our fan base.”

North Carolina’s first setback of the season could serve as a wake-up call. Brown said there are important lessons coming from the result.

“We walked in a little cool and then got hit right in the mouth and had to stop that surge and then respond back in the second half,” Brown said. “That’s something that we’ve got to do. We’ve got to learn how to handle that.”

NC State is in another transition.

Quarterback Devin Leary, who suffered a broken leg in the third quarter of the Wolfpack’s 31-20 win over Duke, could miss the rest of the season following surgery. Bailey Hockman, who started the first two games of the season, is back in a starting role.

Hockman had mixed results last month in his starts, which came about after Leary missed considerable preseason practice time because of quarantine related to coronavirus contact tracing. Hockman sizzled in the beginning of the opening victory against Wake Forest, then fizzled fast the next week at Virginia Tech. He has thrown for three interceptions and two touchdowns this season.

“He needs to trust the protection when it’s there and give his receivers time to get open,” Doeren said. “If things break down, he needs to use his feet, because he can run.”

The Tar Heels, who allowed two Florida State players to rush for more than 100 yards, will have to be aware of NC State running backs Ricky Person Jr. and Zonovan Knight. Both players average more than 90 all-purpose yards per game.

North Carolina didn’t surrender a second-half point in the Florida State game. Cornerback Storm Duck will remain out for this week’s game with an injury.

NC State linebacker Payton Wilson, who’s coming off a 19-tackle, two-interception outing against Duke, initially committed to North Carolina before changing his mind. He’ll play for the first time at Kenan Stadium, which is in his home county.

“He’s going to continue to make more and more plays,” Doeren said. “One thing about Payton is he plays as hard as he can play.”

NC State had won three straight games in the series until North Carolina’s 41-10 romp last year. Still, the Wolfpack have prevailed in their past three trips to Chapel Hill.

The past six seasons, these teams met on the final weekend of the regular season, but the revised 2020 schedules put this collision earlier.

This is NC State’s fourth road assignment across a five-game stretch, but its next three contests are at home in Raleigh.