If you like anemic offenses, then this game was for you. The two teams combined for 428 total yards and 19 points. But numbers are for statisticians. All you need to know is: Virginia 16, North Carolina 3.
There are two reasons why the Virginia Cavaliers beat the North Carolina Tar Heels on Saturday.
1. The Virginia defense was aggressive. Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator Al Groh had his players blitzing on almost every play. The blitzes did not just come from the linebacker spot either. Safety blitzes were frequently called and found success against a helpless UNC offensive line.
The pressure frustrated North Carolina quarterback T.J. Yates all game long. Virginia’s defense never allowed Yates to get comfortable in a pocket that was always collapsing. Yates was constantly forced to throw on the run, and completed only 55 percent of his passes as a result. Yates complemented his modest 135 passing yards with two interceptions.
The quarterback position was not the only one affected by Virginia’s multiple blitz packages. North Carolina running back Shaun Draughn was completely ineffective against an aggressive Virginia defense. Draughn carried the ball 14 times, but was only able to accumulate 25 yards. However, not all the blame falls on Draughn. Any holes that the North Carolina offensive line managed to open up were quickly filled by a Virginia linebacker or safety. Draughn literally had nowhere to go.
2. Butch Davis is a terrible in-game coach. Davis is a great recruiter, but his inability to make in-game adjustments resulted in a devastating loss for the Tar Heels.
Virginia’s offense is not complex. The Cavaliers have two running plays…I wish I was joking. One of these is the designed quarterback run. This one never works, but is frequently called on third and long. The quarterback run is typically followed by me yelling in frustration. The other running play is the quarterback option read. The quarterback option read is the most common running play for the Cavaliers. Southern Mississippi realized this and shut down Virginia’s ground game in the second half. North Carolina never figured out the predictability of the Virginia offense. Virginia was able to find success with the quarterback option read throughout the entirety of the game.
On the other side of the ball, North Carolina was very successful with quick passes over the middle of the field. Tar Heel receiver Greg Little did an excellent job in finding the soft spot in the zone, right between the hash marks. That route was always there for the Heels, and they would have been much more productive on offense if they would have exploited it.
Play of the Game: Chase Minnifield’s Interception
With just over 10 minutes remaining in the game, North Carolina faced a third and 12 from their own 44 yard line. T.J. Yates dropped back to pass, but was pressured by defensive end Nate Collins. Collins hit Yates’ arm during the release, and the ball flew straight up into the air. Defensive back Chase Minnifield made a great diving catch to get the interception. Virginia capitalized on the excellent field position with an eight-yard touchdown run by Mikell Simpson to stretch the lead to 16-3.
Offensive MVP: RB Mikell Simpson
Simpson returned from a leg injury in triumphant fashion. He rushed for 100 yards on 20 carries, and found the end-zone for the first time since Oct. 11, 2008. Simpson also caught four passes for 45 yards. He finally looks up to speed, and will hopefully continue to see more carries than Jameel Sewell.
Offensive Room for Improvement Award: QB Jameel Sewell
Sewell continues to improve every week, but there are still some glaring problems in his performance. Sewell was sacked four times in the Carolina game. While some of this can be attributed to the pressure from Carolina’s defensive line (more specifically Robert Quinn), a lot of the blame falls on Sewell. Sewell runs into more sacks than any quarterback that I have ever seen. He has no pocket presence. When he sees pressure, he does not step up in the pocket and make a strong throw. Instead, Sewell will try to scramble outside of the pocket. More often than not, he ends up in the arms of a defensive end before he can escape the pocket.
Defensive MVP: DE Matt Conrath
He’s a boss. He reminds me of Chris Long in Chris Canty’s body. Conrad pressured Yates all game long, and knocked down three passes. He finished the game with four tackles, including one for a loss.
Defensive Room for Improvement Award: LB Cam Johnson
I have a lot of respect for Cam Johnson. He works hard, and has his head on straight. He is a smart player, and has great field awareness. But he needs to finish plays. Johnson had a perfect opportunity to sack Yates on one particular play. He raced untouched towards the quarterback, but could not wrap Yates up. On a few other plays, Johnson was in position to make a tackle, but just lacked the closing speed to do so. The big guy needs to work on quickness and open field tackling.
While this win is very encouraging for the Virginia Cavaliers, it is nothing to get too excited over. The defense was very impressive for Virginia, but the offense still has a lot of work to do. Coach Groh said that this team has finally found its identity. But if this team’s identity is predictable play-calling and 254 total yards; then there is still reason for concern.