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Breaking down North Carolina-Florida State

North Carolina running back Elijah Hood and Florida State defensive lineman DeMarcus Walker could play big roles Saturday. USA Today Sports

The showdown between Florida State and North Carolina lost a bit of luster after both teams suffered September losses, but this still will be one of the bigger games in the ACC this year. Both teams have potent offenses, so it could be a shootout. ESPN ACC reporters David Hale and Jared Shanker break down the game.

Matchup North Carolina has to win: Defensive front vs. Dalvin Cook. This probably should go without saying, but Cook is a huge problem for the Tar Heels, who have struggled mightily to stop the run this season. They’ve coughed up 961 yards (most in the ACC) and 11 touchdowns on the ground already, and Cook is fresh off a career-best 267 yards against USF. That’s a big problem, and one without an easy answer. Even when UNC has stacked the box this season, it is allowing 5.5 yards per rush, third worst in the Power 5. Dajaun Drennon could be back this week, giving UNC its healthiest line of the year, but the best hope for the Heels might be to simply keep Cook from running wild rather than to shut him down completely. -- Hale

Matchup Florida State has to win: Secondary vs. Mitch Trubisky on first down. The Seminoles defense is reeling, and a primary reason is they’re brutal on first down. They rank 125th in yards per play and yards per attempt on first down. The Tar Heels are 124th in rushes per game, so even on first down the emphasis has to be on the passing game and Trubisky, who is second nationally in completion percentage. If the Seminoles win first down, it’ll take the rhythm out of UNC’s fast-paced offense. -- Shanker

North Carolina X-factor: Elijah Hood. The Tar Heels’ star running back hasn’t been used much this year, with games driven by the passing attack. But while FSU has certainly been vulnerable to good QBs — and North Carolina’s Trubisky is as hot as anyone — it’s also allowing 5.45 yards per rush with 12 TDs on the ground; both numbers are worse than UNC’s shaky defense. If Hood can run the ball successfully and force FSU to play the run, things will open up downfield for a deep corps of receivers that could be a nightmare scenario for Florida State’s struggling defense. -- Hale

Florida State X-factor: DeMarcus Walker. The Seminoles need the Walker who showed up in the second half against Ole Miss. Over the Rebels’ final few drives, Walker had 4.5 sacks and forced a fumble. The Florida State pass rush has fizzled at times, and with such a dynamic passing offense at UNC, it will be critical for the Seminoles to pressure Trubisky. -- Shanker

Hale’s prediction: Florida State 45, North Carolina 42. Expect a lot of points in this one with two potent offenses and two struggling defenses. But FSU has won 22 straight games at home — the nation’s longest active streak — and UNC hasn’t always played its best on the big stage. That gives the Seminoles a small edge.

Shanker’s prediction: Florida State 41, North Carolina 28. Few teams hold possession longer than the Seminoles, and the Tar Heels are among the worst nationally in time of possession. Florida State will eat up clock in order to keep a potent offense off the field. The defense can’t keep being this bad either. They will make enough plays to extend the nation’s longest home-winning streak to 23.