Virginia Football: Previewing the Week 3 Game Against the UNC Tar Heels
The Virginia Cavaliers enter the South's Oldest Rivalry with a 2-0 record for the first time since 2005.
The boys from Charlottesville had to earn their first road victory of the season, coming back from an epic collapse where the Cavaliers dropped a 23-3 lead in just over a quarter of play to win on a field goal as time expired.
Now Virginia must take on a team that trounced the boys of blue and orange one year ago, the North Carolina Tar Heels.
The fallout from NCAA investigations may have cost coach Butch Davis his job, but the Tar Heels remain the favorites at home in the ACC-opener for both teams.
So how will these two teams fare against one another?
Let's take a look at the tale of the tape and break down the matchups.
Virginia Offense vs. Carolina Defense
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North Carolina's defense was decimated with suspensions last year, and the NFL draft took some of the rest.
However, they return seven starters in 2011, many of whom grew into those roles as last season progressed.
As a result, the Tar Heels are stacked on defense yet again and look to cause chaos with their pass-rushing forces. North Carolina already has nine sacks so far this season and 15 tackles for loss.
Considering that Virginia is playing a quarterback with only one road start in his collegiate career, you better believe their opponent is going to bring pressure.
The Cavaliers must be able to spread the field to give their running game a fair shake—that means wide receiver Tim Smith must step up.
After missing almost all of last season due to injury, Smith had zero receptions against Indiana. While some of that could be blamed on a play where Smith hit his head against a guard rail, Virginia needs his speed to open up the field. It may be the only way to test the younger secondary for Carolina.
Virginia also needs a healthy Kevin Parks. The true freshman already has five rushing touchdowns on the season, but ended the Indiana game limping and leaving early in the fourth quarter.
In order to score some points against their rival, Virginia will need all their weapons to be healthy. More importantly, they need a good plan to utilize them.
Unfortunately, North Carolina's defense is further along in their maturation, which could cause huge problems for quarterback Michael Rocco.
Edge: UNC Defense
Virginia Defense vs. Carolina Offense
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The good news for Carolina fans is that quarterback Bryn Renner is a very accurate, 42-of-49 for the season.
Unfortunately, four of those seven missed passes were interceptions.
No other starter in the ACC has thrown as many picks early on as Renner, and given Virginia's talent and experience in the secondary, that will certainly be a point of emphasis in this weekend's game.
Unfortunately for Cavalier fans, Renner may never have to deal with the pressure of putting the team on his back.
Carolina runs a rather balanced offense, 64 runs to 49 passes, and average more than 433 yards of offense so far this season.
Worse yet, Virginia simply could not stop the Tar Heels last season. North Carolina amassed 479 yards of total offense, running at four yards per carry and averaging more than 18 yards per reception.
Virginia got blitzed early with a 27-10 deficit at half, and they need to avoid an early hole this time around, because Carolina has outscored their opponents 21-0 in the first quarter this season.
If the Cavaliers can win time of possession, they can try and contain the North Carolina offense by making them one-dimensional.
However, despite the progression in the 4-3 defensive scheme, Virginia has had difficulties getting pressure and finishing tackles in the open field.
The Cavaliers may have a tall task containing Carolina's offense this time around.
Edge: North Carolina Offense
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The Barth dynasty continues at North Carolina.
Senior Casey Barth is just five field goals away from replacing his brother Connor with the most in school history for a career.
Barth has been incredibly consistent, hitting 19-of-22 last year and 50-of-62 for his career. That is definitely not a bad record for a former walk-on.
Opposing him though is Virginia placekicker Robert Randolph, who has looked amazing so far this season. A perfect 8-of-8 in two games, Randolph has already set many personal career marks.
He hit the game-winner against Indiana and looks to be one of Virginia's most solid players in 2011.
While Barth may get the career edge, Virginia has a veteran punter in Jimmy Howell, dynamic receivers and a creative coordinator in Anthony Poindexter.
The Cavaliers already have a blocked field goal, a recovered fumble on a kickoff return and a propensity to roll the dice on special teams.
North Carolina is dead last in punting and 10th in the ACC in kickoff coverage.
Overall, special teams may actually be a place where the Cavaliers can get lucky and perhaps change the momentum of the game.
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With Butch Davis unceremoniously dumped right before the start of the 2011 season, North Carolina has turned to interim head coach Everett Withers to guide the Tar Heels.
Withers has led North Carolina's vaunted defense for years now, helping cultivate the NFL-caliber talent and make the Tar Heels a dangerous team in the ACC.
However, despite all his defensive credentials, Withers has zero head coaching experience coming into this game and as an offensive coordinator who has never had the Tar Heel offense ranked above sixth in the ACC.
Despite all the talent, North Carolina has been a perennially underachieving team in the past decade. Davis could bring in top 25 recruiting classes, but he had only one bowl victory in four seasons.
Given some of their ACC competition, North Carolina will likely finish somewhere in the middle of the ACC again.
While Virginia would love to get out of the cellar, coach Mike London is now in his second year with the program and has begun to turn things around on and off the field.
London has four years head coaching experience and has built a reputation as a great motivator. While his coordinators still have something to prove to the fanbase, Virginia's coaching staff has a slight edge over the unproven or unimpressive staff members in Chapel Hill.
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On paper, this game should not be that close.
Virginia is less experienced, less athletic and really inconsistent on the road.
They are just a year removed from a complete drubbing in Charlottesville and really were lucky to have escaped Indiana after blowing a 20-point lead.
Yet, in a rivalry game, results sometimes defy logic. The Cavaliers may have lost last year, but they have had Carolina's number in recent years.
Since 2000, Virginia is 8-3 against the Tar Heels. No matter what, North Carolina has seemed to find bizarre ways to lose the game.
The momentum was clearly in their favor up until last year; perhaps Mike London simply does not have the same mojo as his predecessor.
Virginia will have a tall task containing North Carolina on either side of the ball, and while the Tar Heels have not been necessarily sharp for all four quarters of a game yet, they have enough to win this game.
The Cavaliers must get off to a good start, or things will get as ugly as they did in other ACC games last season. If they get down early, the pass-rush will be too much for Mike Rocco to handle.
2-0 was an important start for Virginia, but the streak will end on Saturday.
Prediction: UNC 35, UVA 13