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November 2, 2011
The refreshing difference in Carolina's approach to this week's game against N.C. State from the previous few years is the platitudes proclaiming this as just another of 12 games has been replaced by a stark naked desire to win.
"It's huge for our seniors to get this game," interim head coach Everett Withers said. "We're really focused. Right after [the game against Wake Forest], we started getting ready for this one. It's important to us.
"One of the first things we talked about in the locker room was preparing for this week," Withers said. "I think our older guys, they can say they haven't been, but I think all year they probably had this one marked on the calendar.
"We want to beat every team in this state that we play. It gives us a chance to be 7-3. So it's huge for us."
The Tar Heels are 6-3 overall, 2-3 in the ACC, while the Wolfpack enters this one 4-4, 1-3.
Former Coach Butch Davis did an unbelievable job of infusing the roster with a depth of genuine talent and starting a change in the culture of football at Carolina before all the troubles hit in the summer of 2010. The one area he fell short was recognizing that the true enemy wears Wolf's clothing.
"The past couple of years we were overlooking how talented they really were," senior defensive end Quentin Coples said. "They wanted it more. They were playing for more than what we were playing for."
Maybe the difference is having a coach who is from Charlotte and another who came from Arkansas and learned his craft in South Florida.
"I grew up a Carolina fan," Withers said. "I'm a Carolina guy. I never once thought about N.C. State. I bleed Carolina blue."
He has not been shy about trying to translate this to his team, either.
"College football needs rivalries," Withers said. "Just like the East Carolina rivalry, I think it's important to have rivalries in your state. Yeah, it's important. Sometimes, you to stay so focused, you want to say it's the next game, it's the next game. But these kids were recruited by State, a lot of them."
Coples said that it hasn't take much for the North Carolinians on the team to get mentally prepared this week. They have friends and even family who are Wolfpackers. He said that Withers has taken care of the kids from across the borders.
"For guys like me who are from North Carolina," Coples said, "they understand this is more than just a game to us. [Withers] has done a great job of helping the guys from outside the state understand how important this game is."
Of course, no matter how intensely the team may focus, the greatest achievement will be to be prepared and ready to play on Saturday at 12:30 at Carter-Finley Stadium, just as the Tar Heels were against East Carolina and Wake Forest this past weekend.
"We are definitely taking this personally," Coples said. "We are practicing as hard as we can this week and get the job done on Saturday. Coach Withers looks at it as some games stand out as statement games, games you have to win."
There will be no more overlooking the Wolfpack, senior defensive tackle Tydreke Powell said.
"There is no doubt everybody gets it," Powell said. "Carolina hasn't won in four years. It's going to be a great battle."
Freshman T.J. Thorpe said he can see a difference this week in the players and coaches.
"This week means a lot more to the team than any of the previous weeks," Thorpe said. "We really want to get after N.C. State and try to play our best game.
"I can sense the sense of urgency in the coaches, and the intensity in the older players," Thorpe said. "This game is something everybody has been looking forward to."