What to watch for in Saturday’s North Carolina college football games

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Here are highlights for Nov. 30, including game of the week, player to watch, stat leaders, TV info and more

GAME OF THE WEEK — North Carolina (5-6, 3-4) vs. N.C. State (4-7, 1-6)

When: 7 p.m. Saturday

Where: Carter-Finley Stadium, Raleigh

TV: ACC Network

KEYS FOR NORTH CAROLINA

Start fast: The Tar Heels have relied too often on finishing strong this season and it’s cost them several wins. Coming out of the gate strong against N.C. State will serve two purposes. One, it will take the always boisterous Carter-Finley Stadium crowd out of the game. Second, getting on top early might also take the wind out of a battered and bruised Wolfpack team already disappointed it’s not advancing to the postseason play for the first time since 2013

Establish the run: Freshman quarterback Sam Howell has grabbed the headlines this season, and rightly so. Howell has had a record-breaking rookie campaign. But UNC’s offense, and Howell, are at their best when the three-headed running back corps of Michael Carter, Javonte Williams and Antonio Williams are producing. Get those guys going early and it opens up throws downfield for Howell.

KEYS FOR N.C. STATE

Play with Pack Pride: After consecutive nine-win seasons, the Wolfpack has taken a step backward this season, due in large part to the rash of injuries that have decimated the roster. Seven different scholarship players, including five starters, have been lost for the season and five other starters have missed mulitiple games. But with 12 seniors playing their final home game, and an arch rival on the other sideline, N.C. State should have plenty of motivation even though it season ends Saturday, win or lose.

Win the turnover battle: This hasn’t exactly been N.C. State’s forte this season. The Wolfpack went seven straight games without forcing a turnover before forcing two fumbles in last Saturday’s narrow loss against Georgia Tech. During its current five-game losing streak, State’s offense has committed 12 turnovers, resulting in 10 scoring drives and 66 points for opponents. Only by reversing those trends can the Wolfpack compete with UNC.

PREDICTION

North Carolina 33, N.C. State 21: The Tar Heels are clearly playing better football at this stage of the season. But this is a rivalry game where anything can happen. UNC, however, should be highly motivated since it needs the victory to become bowl eligible in Mack Brown’s first year back in Chapel Hill as head coach. That and the Tar Heels’ high-powered offense should be enough to end a three-game losing streak against N.C. State.

BEST OF THE REST — This weekend’s other top conference games

Miami (6-5, 4-3) vs. Duke (4-7, 2-5)

When: 3:30 p.m., Saturday

Where: Wallace Wade Stadium, Durham

TV: ESPN2

Notes: The Blue Devils will be trying to end a five-game losing streak against a Miami program that is 7-1 in games played at Wallace Wade Stadium against Duke. The Blue Devils have committed an ACC worst 27 turnovers this season, but will need take better of the ball against a Hurricane team ranked third in ACC total defense (309.5).

Wake Forest (8-3, 4-3) vs. Syracuse (4-7, 1-6)

When: 12:30 p.m., Saturday

Where: The Carrier Dome, Syracuse, N.Y.

TV: RSN

Notes: The Demon Deacons can complete their best regular-season finish since winning the ACC title in 2006 with a win against Syracuse, which it tied for last in the league’s Atlantic Division. Wake boasts the ACC’s top passing offense, averaging 285.5 yards per game through the air.

Tulsa (3-8, 1-6) vs. East Carolina (4-7, 1-6)

When: Noon, Saturday

Where: Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, Greenville

TV: ESPNU

Notes: The Pirates will try to close the 2019 season with back-to-back wins and their hightest number of total victories since 2015. ECU’s sophomore quarterback Holton Ahlers has thrown for 1,407 yards and 12 touch-downs in the Pirates’ last three games, including 374 yards and a score in last week’s win against Connecticut.

PLAYER TO WATCH

Michael Carter, North Carolina: The junior from Florida enters the regular-season finale against N.C. State with 822 yards rushing, the most for UNC back since Elijah Hood’s 858 in 2016. Carter’s 6.1 yards-per-carry average is the best in Tar Heel history for players with a minimum of 300 career rushing attempts.

ROUNDING IT OUT — This weekend’s other big games

Saturday/Time Matchup TV

Noon No. 3 Clemson (11-0) at South Carolina (4-7) ESPN

Noon No. 4 Georgia (10-1) at Georgia Tech (3-8) ABC

Noon Louisville (7-4) at Kentucky (6-5) SEC Network

2 p.m. Charlotte (6-5, 4-3) at Old Dominion (1-10, 0-7)

3:30 p.m. Boston College (5-6, 3-4) at Pittsburgh (7-4, 4-3) ACC Network

6 p.m. No. 24 Appalachian State (10-1, 6-1) at Troy (5-6, 3-4) ESPN+

7:30 p.m. Florida State (6-5) at No. 8 Florida (9-2) SEC Network

BY THE NUMBERS — In-state schools statistical leaders

Passing yards

Player — Yds.

Holton Ahlers, ECU — 3,079

Sam Howell, UNC — 2,946

Jamie Newman, WF — 2,622

Chris Reynolds, CHA — 2,200

Zac Thomas, ASU — 2,101

Passing touchdowns

Player — TDs

Sam Howell, UNC — 32

Jamie Newman, WF — 23

Zac Thomas, ASU — 20

Chris Reynolds, CHA — 19

Holton Ahlers, ECU — 18

Rushing yards

Player — Yds

Darrynton Evans, ASU — 1,168

Benny LeMay, CHA — 932

Michael Carter, UNC — — 822

Javonte Williams, UNC 790

Zonovan Knight, NCS — 689

Receiving yards

Player — Yds

Sage Surratt, WF — 1,001

Kendall Hinton, WF — 865

Dazz Newsome, UNC — 817

Dyami Brown, UNC — 797

C.J. Johnson, ECU — 767

Tackles

Player — Tkls

Chazz Surratt, UNC — 100

Koby Quansah DUKE— 100

Marquavis Gibbs, CHA — 86

Jordan Fehr, ASU — 86

Akeem Davis-Gaither, ASU — 82

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