Go Figure: Close Calls on Tobacco Road

By Lauren Brownlow | 0 Comment(s) | Posted

The #GamedayForWallaceWade Twitter movement (which was somewhat tongue-in-cheek) for this week’s Carolina-Duke game sadly ended when Duke saw a 20-0 lead evaporate quickly at Virginia Tech and turn into a 41-20 loss. North Carolina’s 18-14 win at Miami was big for the Tar Heels, but hardly made the ESPN executives salivate at the thought of Lee Corso and company making a trip to Tobacco Road for College GameDay.

But what the ESPN executives don’t know is that regardless of how good or bad Carolina and Duke have been, in recent years, the games have been close. The Blue Devils have not lost by more than 16 points in the last five meetings.

From 1990-2001, Carolina won 12 games by an average of 21.4 points, including five wins by 33.8 points from 1997-01. But from 2002-09, Carolina’s average margin of victory has been just 6.9 points (which includes an eight-point loss to Duke at home in 2003). From 2005-08, Carolina’s four wins came by an average of just 4.5 points.

Duke head coach David Cutcliffe has made the Blue Devils more competitive, and it shows in their results against the Tar Heels. Carolina went to bowl games from 2008-11 and in that span, Carolina’s four wins over Duke came by an average of 10.5 points (from 2008-10, it was just 8.7 points). Carolina has won the last two times at Wallace Wade by a combined 13 points. And a Duke quarterback has had the ball with a chance to win in both games.

The 2007 game is worth a mention: a 28-20 overtime Carolina win in which Carolina was outdone in nearly every statistical category except the final score: the Blue Devils even held the ball for nearly 13 more minutes than the Tar Heels. It was three missed field goals that helped do in Duke.

But from 2008-11, Carolina’s four wins have revealed some interesting trends. (Obligatory caveat: none of these trends are likely as relevant as they have been, since the game was always the last game of the year in the past when injuries had taken a toll on the thin Blue Devils and Duke is much better this year than they have been in recent years.)

-Carolina has averaged 203.3 rushing yards and Duke has averaged 35.5. Duke’s rushing total of 142 yards in that four-game span does not equal Carolina’s lowest rushing total (179 yards in 2008). As you might think, Duke has more passing yards (234.8 per game) than Carolina (223.5 per game) but Duke has averaged nearly 12 more passing attempts. Carolina QBs also have seven touchdowns to three picks compared to five touchdowns and seven interceptions by Duke quarterbacks.

-Despite having a number of future NFL stars, Cutcliffe’s system has ensured his quarterbacks won’t get sacked much: despite UNC having a number of future NFL defensive players, it has registered just nine sacks in the last four games. Of course, Carolina’s system this year has cut way down on sacks as well, and so Duke notching eight sacks in the same span likely won’t matter.

-The Carolina defense has done its job in many areas that matter, though: Duke has averaged 14 first downs and 270.3 yards per game compared to 22.8 first downs by Carolina and 426.8 yards per game. Duke has converted just 19-of-55 third downs in that span (34.5%) while Carolina has converted 40-of-68 (58.8%).

-A stat Carolina fans won’t like based on the 2012 Tar Heels’ recent propensity for penalties? Carolina has averaged eight penalties for 74.5 yards in the last four years and 10 for 89.7 in the last three years.

-Perhaps the most staggering statistic of them all is that Carolina has held an enormous time of possession advantage of 13 or more minutes in the last three meetings. In total, Carolina has held the ball for the length of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I (146 minutes and 31 seconds). Duke has held the ball for the length of a casual comedy, like Adam Sandler’s classic “Big Daddy”. (Hey, it looks like a classic next to the movies Sandler has made since.)

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