DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) – When Duke takes on UNC, the sport, records, and venues don’t matter. It’s going to be heated no matter what. This weekend, the two schools meet on the gridiron playing for the Victory Bell.
It’s about more than that, though. The bell is just a symbol; a reminder of one school’s yearly dominance over the other. For Duke, this game is about pride and reclaiming some of the respect that was taken from them. The way last year’s game ended with the jump pass interception on the goal line has stuck in the Duke Blue Devils collective craw ever since the clock hit triple zeros at Kenan Stadium.
“It’s a rivalry game, so emotions are always high,” said Duke offensive lineman Rakavius Chambers. “The way that we lost the Victory Bell was tough. I think we’ve taken it to heart and that is our extra motivation.”
“It’s always been a very intense rivalry ever since I’ve been here, and I think last year that really hurt us a lot, you know, with the way it ended,” added Duke safety Michael Carter II. “I think it definitely just added that extra fuel to a rivalry game that’s already super intense, and I’m sure they know that. And I’m sure they’re aware how it ended last year and how we’re thinking about it.”
If the Blue Devils are to have any chance of taking the Victory Bell back to Durham, they need to find a way to slow down the UNC offense. Check any metric you want from the ground game to the running game and UNC is in the top five, if not the top team, in every category. The key to it all is the man running the show. Sam Howell plays like a seasoned vet and not a sophomore who just turned 20 last month.
“He runs a game well. He manages a game well,” said Duke head coach David Cutcliffe. “We’ve got to do as good a job as you can do of trying to get them off schedule. When you do get pressure on a quarterback or if you’re fortunate enough to get a sack, you throw the down and distance off schedule.”
“He’s probably a better athlete than some people give him credit for and definitely forces a lot of missed tackles himself just trying to keep plays alive,” Carter said. “The receivers do a good job of just getting open when they see he’s in trouble, so that’s definitely been a point of emphasis.”
If the UNC offense has been frighteningly good, the defense has been just plain frightening. The Tar Heels failed to hold teams at bay and allowed insurmountable leads against teams like Florida State and Virginia. They have had some serious trouble stopping the run, which is exactly what Duke is looking to take advantage of Saturday.
“I think their opponents have done a really good job, but also their opponents that have run the ball on have played really well up front. Veteran offensive lines that you see run the ball on almost everybody,” Cutcliffe said. “We have to take the challenge that other teams have taken that you put your hat in the right place, you keep your feet, you bring your feet. You do the things that it takes to be successful as a running football team.”
“Each and every single play, you have to be the more physical team, take it to that other team,” Chambers said. “They may get a couple of plays here and there, but over and over and over again when you’re not letting that other team breathe. That suffocation breaks defenses down. And so, in turn, you end up seeing these big plays and ultimately see domination from the offensive line.”
When asked what that special something was that it took to win these types of rivalry games, Chambers summed it up best: “Rivalry games come down to who wants to be the most physical team and who is going to pound the other team for a longer period of time.”