December 2, 2020

Independent analysis and commentary on UVA athletics

Gameday Guide – North Carolina

Happy Halloween, Wahoo fans! In the spirit of the holiday, let’s try to have a little fun this week.

And that’s advisable because our Hoos lost again last week at Miami. While the team looked much more competitive, the outcome was still the same. The current losing streak now stands at four games.

But this weekend brings a return to Scott Stadium after consecutive road games. And it’s one of the most anticipated games on the schedule each season.

Virginia (1-4, 1-4) will host 15th ranked North Carolina (4-1, 4-1). The hated Tar Heels are many UVA fans top rivalry in football and every other sport. The Halloween vibe should be in full force as kickoff is scheduled for 8:00 PM.

Game Uniforms

UVA Football’s social media caused a stir this week as a teaser was released with the note that He’s Coming. Quick thinking allowed one to figure out that He was coming Thursday evening before that was revealed in a further social media teaser.

Speculation built, and even frothed over a bit. When the reveal was made, a Halloween uniform reveal was shown. Much like last year’s chainsaw wielding Bryce Perkins, the UNC/Halloween theme was carried over into 2020.

This time a sledgehammer wielding, zombie like Tony Poljan rose from the dead to reveal that UVA would wear its all blue uniform combination against the Heels.

Some fans were let down by the reveal as they were expecting some sort of wild uniform combo or even an all black set. Personally, I didn’t let my expectations get the best of me.

Thus, the video was a fun little minute of my day.

I’m also a fan of the all blue set, especially in this setting. Some fans refer to them as the blueberries. But I prefer to call them our Nigh Stalkers uniforms. And under the Halloween moon, that’s a perfect fit.

Series History

You know it’s a special rivalry when the game is named. And the Hoos and Heels play in The South’s Oldest Rivalry.

Dating back to 1892, the Halloween game will be the 125th all time meeting between the rivals. This will also be the second game in the series to be played on Halloween. The other game to fall on October 31st was back in 1970, a UNC win in Chapel Hill.

UVA’s current three-game winning streak follows a seven-game winning streak by UNC.

Both the ACC Network’s and UVA Sports’ Twitter accounts elected to highlight the infamous 1996 UVA win from Scott Stadium. The ACC Network does a better job with the highlight package this week.

Media Coverage

Would you believe the Hoos are on the ACC Network yet again this week? Now batting a perfect six for six, it’s almost as if UVA’s placement on the ACC Network weekly is intentional.

It’s too bad that the coverage impasse between the ACC / ACC Network / ESPN and Comcast is being taken out on UVA fans (and VT fans too, I believe). But at this point, any Comcast subscribers should have made alternate arrangements to watch the Wahoos.

Per UVA’S game notes, the 8:00 PM game will feature Dave O’Brien on play by play. Former Boston College QB Tim Hasselbeck is scheduled to be the color analyst. And Katie George will be the sideline reporter.

As usual, Dave Koehn and Tony Covington have the radio call for the Virginia Sports Radio Network. You can find their affiliates list at the link.

Finally, satellite radio coverage can be found at these channels: Sirius – 137, XM – 193, SiriusXM Internet Streaming – 955.

What Worries Me About North Carolina

Pass Offense

Led by QB Sam Howell and WR Dyami Brown, UNC’s pass offense is currently ranked 22nd overall in FBS. The Tar Heels are averaging 282.2 yards passing per game.

On the season, Howell has completed 64.2% of his passes for 1,403 yards. He has thrown for 10 touchdowns against only 4 interceptions. Howell is also averaging 9.5 yards per attempt which ranks 15th in FBS.

Howell’s Total QBR of 66.6 currently ranks 38th in FBS. Howell actually ranks below Trevor Lawrence, Devin Leary, and D’Eriq King in this metric.

Howell’s top receiver is Dyami Brown. The junior from Charlotte has caught a team high 24 passes for 401 yards on the season. He also leads the Heels with 3 TD receptions. Brown’s 401 yards rank 33rd overall in FBS to date.

Last season against UVA, Brown torched the Hoos for 202 yards and 3 touchdowns on 6 receptions.

He will challenge the UVA defense to make plays in space. If UVA is to control the Heels’ passing game, they must do a better job tackling in space than they have this season. And it must be much improved over how they handled Brown last season.

Rush Offense

UNC’s passing attack gets a lot of hype. And it’s mostly justified.

But UNC’s rushing attack is the gem of the Tar Heel offense in 2020.

Ranked 12th overall in FBS, the Heels are averaging 249 yard per game on the ground. Their 5.74 yards per carry is good for 9th overall in FBS.

UNC uses a two-headed monster of Michael Carter and Javonte Williams to pilot their rushing attack. Williams is the more physical back. And Carter is more of the speed back in the duo.

Williams rushed for 160 yards on just 19 carries (8.4 yards per carry) and 3 touchdowns last week against NC State. For the season, Williams has rushed for 562 yards on 82 carries (6.9 yards per carry). He’s also run for 10 touchdowns. Williams is the tenth leading rusher in FBS.

Not to be outdone, senior running back Michael Carter is actually UNC’s leading rusher. Carter has gained 584 yards on 74 carries (7.9 yards per carry). He’s also run for 3 touchdowns. Carter ranks 8th in rushing in FBS.

What Worries Me For UVA

Until it’s no longer an issue, the turnover margin is something I’m going to harp on. The special teams were competent last week at Miami save for a missed field goal. So they’re getting a reprieve for a week.

Against Miami, the Hoos turned the ball over on their last offensive play of the game. UVA was in desperation mode but to an impartial observer, a turnover is a turnover.

Miami didn’t commit any turnovers against the Hoos. As a result, UVA’s turnover margin dropped to -5 on the season. That ranks 93rd in all of FBS.

As easy as it is to point fingers at the Hoos’ offense, the UVA defense must shoulder some of the responsibility too. A De’Vante Cross interception in the end zone against NC State was the last turnover forced by the defense (2+ games ago).

In a game that may require UVA to win in a shootout, extra possessions could make all the difference. It would behoove the Hoos to win the turnover battle against UNC.

Why I Should Worry Less

As productive as UNC’s rushing attack is, the UVA run defense isn’t exactly a pushover.

Ranked 43rd in FBS, UVA is surrendering only 133.6 yards per game on the ground.

And when looking at yards per carry, the Hoos improve their ranking to 28th in FBS at 3.32 yards per carry.

The UVA run defense has been pretty stout at the point of attack. The front seven is doing a nice job, generally, in frustrating opponents’ rushing attacks.

Where UVA has suffered is in giving up big plays in the run game. Be it an occasional poor run fit, over pursuit, or poor tackling on the edges, a small mistake has resulted in several chunk plays for opponents that have erased a lot of nice work up front this season.

The Hoos did an admirable job against Miami in cleaning up those issues. The Hurricanes ran for just 122 yards in their 19 to 14 win. Those 122 yards were hard earned on 48 carries (2.5 yards per carry). Miami’s long rush was a 19 yard scramble from D’Eriq King on their fifth play of the game.

A similar effort will be needed to slow down UNC’s rushing attack.

Prediction

This is where I mention that Mack Brown has never won at Scott Stadium. This will be his first game at UVA since returning to UNC as head coach. But during his first tenure at UNC, Brown was 0 for 6 at Scott Stadium.

Brown’s Tarheels will arrive as the favorite in this contest. UNC is currently a 7.5 points favorite against the Hoos. And ESPN’s football power index gives UNC a 71.5% chance of winning the game.

Honestly, there’s not a lot to like for the Hoos in this matchup. But one thing the Hoos can hang their hats on is that UNC has struggled to stop running quarterbacks this year.

In their only loss of the season against Florida State, FSU’s QB ran for 2 touchdowns and 107 yards. And in a shootout win over Virginia Tech, the Hokies got 80 yards and 1 rushing TD from combined from their two QBs in the game.

Given how UVA utilizes the QB position in the running game, this could be the key to a Wahoo victory.

Let’s take the QB runs, combine with Mack Brown’s history at Scott Stadium, and add a dash of Halloween night into our football cauldron. Mix together carefully and the potion becomes an upset victory.

UVA wins 24 to 20.

 

 

 

 

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