Victory Bell showdown comes early: Duke, UNC renew rivalry

Here’s how either Duke or UNC could come out on top Saturday

Duke linebacker Kevin Gehsmann rings the Victory Bell following the Blue Devils’ 28-27 win against North Carolina in 2016 (Christine T. Nguyen /North State Journal file photo)

CHAPEL HILL/DURHAM — Though not as publicized as the basketball rivalry between the neighboring schools, the football version of the battle between North Carolina and Duke is no less intense or meaningful to the players and fans on both sides.

This year’s matchup at Kenan Stadium on Saturday promises to be even more intriguing than usual since it’s being played earlier than any of the previous 103 games between the 3-0 Blue Devils and 1-2 Tar Heels.

UNC leads the all-time series 61-38-4, but Duke has won three of the last five — including last year’s 28-27 win in Durham. So for whom will the Victory Bell toll this time around? Staff writers Brett Friedlander and Shawn Krest break it down.

Why Duke will win

The Blue Devils can pressure the quarterback. Duke’s young defensive line has 12.5 tackles for loss and six sacks. Blitzing linebackers and secondary add another 11.5 TFL and five sacks. With UNC’s injury-ravaged offensive line, look for Duke to make a home in Carolina’s backfield.

Also, don’t forget Chazz Surratt was originally a Duke commit, so coach David Cutcliffe is very familiar with Carolina’s (likely) starting quarterback. Duke opponents are averaging just 1.8 yards per rush this season, so UNC’s young tailbacks could find the going tough as well.

Duke at North Carolina
Kenan Memorial Stadium, Chapel Hill  |  Saturday, 3:30 p.m.  |  ESPNU

On the other side, Daniel Jones is a year more experienced than the quarterback that led Duke back from a 14-point deficit against Carolina last year. He’s far more comfortable attacking deep than last year. Seven different Blue Devils have caught passes of 20 yards or longer, and three have caught 40-yarders.

Jones is made more dangerous by Duke’s balanced offensive attack — the Blue Devils are averaging 241 yards on the ground and 257 through the air this season. Shaun Wilson, Brittain Brown and Jones himself, when he calls his own number, give the Blue Devils three big-play threats on the ground to go with T.J. Rahming, Johnathan Lloyd and Aaron Young through the air.

Finally, Duke is controlling the ball for more than 37 minutes per game this year. With its quick-strike offense, UNC doesn’t care about time of possession, but if it misfires on a possession, it’ll likely be awhile before the Heels see the ball again.

Why UNC will win

Duke’s propensity for pressuring the quarterback would figure to give it an advantage, especially with three starters on the Tar Heels’ offensive line either out or slowed by injuries. But that aggressiveness could actually work in UNC’s favor thanks to the running ability and improvisation skills of quarterback Chazz Surratt.

The redshirt freshman has rushed for 94 yards in his first three college games while also completing nearly 70 percent of his passes. He also has a personal stake in the outcome, having originally committed to play for the Blue Devils before flipping to the other side of the rivalry.

Despite having to replace virtually all of its playmakers on offense, UNC is still averaging 39.3 points per game this season. And while its defense hasn’t distinguished itself thus far, the one thing it has been able to do is force and take advantage of turnovers.

The Tar Heels have turned their five takeaways into 28 points thus far this year. Conversely, they have yet to allow the opposition to score as a direct result of their four giveaways.

Another potential gamebreaker tipping in UNC’s favor is special teams.

Thanks to the prowess of Anthony Ratliff-Williams and Austin Proehl, UNC ranks second in the ACC in kickoff return yardage and fifth in punt returns. Ratliff-Williams has already brought back one kickoff for a 96-yard touchdown and has come close to breaking others.

While both return men have done a good job of giving their offense good field position from which to work, Australian punter Tom Sheldon has become the Tar Heels’ best friend in pinning the opposition back with rugby-style kicks that are rarely returned.