My old man used to say that you can't win a game in the first half, but you can lose one. N. C. State and North Carolina have both demonstrated the truth of this old saw on the gridiron this fall, particularly in the first quarter. In their 5 wins, the Wolfpack have outscored their opponents 35-13 in the opening 15 minutes. In a pair of losses they have been on the wrong end of a 45-14 margin. Thanks largely to blowout wins over Elon and Idaho, the Heels own a 70-14 first-quarter advantage in wins, but they have been outscored 32-10 in the opening frame of their 3 losses.
Despite getting down early, the Tarheels nearly came back to beat Wake Forest, Louisville, and Duke. The Pack spotted the Seminoles 16 first-half points and won with a furious fourth quarter comeback, but 20-plus point first-quarter outbursts were too much to overcome against Tennessee and Miami.
Whichever team avoids its first-quarter woes will likely be the victor Saturday between the pines. For State to be that team, it will need a better defensive effort over the first 15 minutes. Pack opponents have rushed for 307 yards on 58 carries in the first quarter, an average of 5.29 yards per carry. In the second through fourth quarters, the Pack allow a paltry 2.95 yards per rush. The Pack secondary has been gutted for 10.5 yards per attempt in the first quarter and 5 touchdowns. No team in all of the FBS has allowed an average of 10.5 yards per attempt over an entire game, so State would rank dead last in that category if it didn't clean things up a bit after the opening frame. In the second through fourth quarters, they are yielding a respectable 7.8 yards per attempt and just 4 scoring passes over 21 total quarters.
Fifth-year senior Mike Glennon has also been guilty of slow starts. He's completing just 52.9% of his passes in the opening frame compared to 60.1% after the first, and only his desperation-time interception deflated fourth quarter rating (113.73) is lower than his first quarter mark (130.74). His rating is over 140 for the second and third quarters.
With the bowl-banned Tarheels having nothing to play for but pride (and how much pride can you have if you resort to copying the work of 11 year olds?), a hit-them-in-the-mouth-first start for the Wolfpack might not win the game, but it should deflate the opponent enough to make a sixth consecutive win in the series a near lock. But if, as has too often been the case this season, the Pack is the team on their heels absorbing blows early in the game, forcing them to play catch up, then Duke can probably go ahead and print up those state championship T-shirts and paint the Our State billboards dark blue.