The UNC game always holds special importance among the alums in our fanbase. For many, it is THE rivalry game of the season. Even when there's nothing to play for in the standings, the game is still hotly contested and highly anticipated.
This season's matchup takes on special importance. The Tarheels (1-5 overall, 1-3 ACC) are desperate for any win at this point. The Hoos (5-2 overall, 3-1 ACC) have much to play for. A win clinches bowl eligibility for the second consecutive season. That would be a program first since the 2004 and 2005 seasons. A win will also catapult the Hoos to the top of the ACC Coastal standings after Georgia Tech waltzed into Lane Stadium and took the Hokies behind the woodshed Thursday night. Bragging rights are important as well.
What do the Hoos need to do on Saturday in order to send the Heels back to Chapel Hill with another L?
To be honest, I'm not a big fan of this combination. But as long as it comes with a win, I'll be ecstatic about its season debut.
Embrace The Rivalry
As mentioned earlier, this is a big games for the fans. The crowd at Scott Stadium will be pumped and out for blood at the first sight of that UNC baby blue.
The Tarheel players will use the rivalry as another source of motivation. Added with the desire to earn their second win of the season, the Tarheels look to be sky high at the game's start.
If the UVA players do the same, UNC will find it difficult to take an over confident home team by surprise.
Thinking back on the history of the rivalry with UNC, there are three games that stand out as my favorites.
I attended my first UVA football game in 1987 against Virginia Tech. I was nine and already a casual UVA football fan. But after watching the Hoos in person for the first time ever, I was hooked. I can still recall listening to the '87 matchup with UNC on the radio in my bedroom. The Hoos seemed doomed until they flipped a switch in the 4th quarter. The comeback seemed magical on the radio.
Next up would be the 1998 game at Scott Stadium. The Hoos won this one 30 to 13. On the surface, it doesn't seem all that special. But I have one name that will bring back all sorts of memories: Ronald Curry. This was Curry's first appearance in competition against UVA. The crowd was electric, alternately chanting Curry's name with derision and heartily booing whenever he took the field. Oscar Davenport was the starting QB for UNC but Curry saw some action throughout the season as a true freshman. Against the Hoos that day, in front of 47,000 fans (then the 2nd largest crowd in Scott Stadium history), Curry went 3 for 9 with 1 interception. He had 25 yards passing and 4 carries for 11 yards. Each time Curry was hit by the Hoos' defense, the crowd would erupt in joy. It was a fun, underrated afternoon in pre expansion Scott Stadium. Sadly, video highlights of this game do not appear online from what I could find. But this tweet sums it up nicely.
@TarHeelMonthly I survived Ronald Curry's first game at UVA. Didn't think I'd make it out alive.— Michael Crawford (@MiklCraw4d) September 28, 2011
Number three on my list is the 2002 game in which the Hoos won 37 to 27. UNC led 21 to 0 at the half and it felt like Al Groh was going to blow the lengthy home winning streak against the Heels. Then, Marquis Weeks took the second half kickoff back 100 yards for a touchdown (of running from the cops quote fame). The Hoos would go on to score 37 unanswered points in the second half before the Heels added a garbage time TD with 1:10 left to provide the final margin. This game was the ultimate tale of two halves. Steamrolling UNC in that second half was a sight to behold.
Improve The Pass Blocking
Everyone can see that the run blocking has improved for UVA the last few weeks. But the pass blocking remains a major work in progress.
|Games||Sacks||Per Game||FBS Rank|
UNC has a mediocre to poor defense.
|Category||Pass Yards Allowed||Rush Defense||Scoring Defense||Red Zone Defense||Total Defense|
Their best hope on defense will be to pressure the UVA OL and Bryce Perkins. The Heels have been largely allergic to defense under Larry Fedora but they're still going to try to be disruptive. If they find early success, they'll look to dial up the pressure and make it a long afternoon for Perkins.
A bright sport here for UNC is the return of suspended DE Malik Carney. He's played in just three games this season but does have 5.5 sacks. UNC as a team has only 20. It will be important to have a plan to slow down Carney, or at least limit his effectiveness.
If the Hoos are successful here, the points should be relatively easy to come by as the UNC run defense is pretty generous.
Have A Plan For Their Playmakers
Larry Fedora knows offense and the Heels do have a handful of playmakers on that side of the ball.
Two weeks ago, running back Michael Carter was ACC Running Back of the Week after rushing for 165 yards on 18 carries against Virginia Tech. He was also responsible for the game altering fumble at the Hokies' goal line that turned a sure UNC win into a miracle victory for VPI. Last week against Syracuse, Carter was limited to just 10 carries but lost a costly fumble as well. The sophomore is talented and was pursued by UVA as a recruit. He ran for 157 yards and 2 touchdowns last year as a freshman against UVA.
Last week's ACC Running Back of the Week was Tarheel Antonio Williams who earned 116 yards on 15 carries and 1 TD. Williams is an Ohio State transfer who obtained a hardship waiver this summer granting him immediate eligibility.
Receivers Dazz Newsome and Anthony Ratliff-Williams are tied for the team lead in receptions with 25. They're both dangerous receivers that also excel in the return game. Newsome does his damage returning punts and Ratliff-Williams is one of the best kick returners in the ACC.
Playing sound within the defensive scheme will allow the Hoos to limit the UNC attack. The Heels are not especially strong at QB with Nathan Elliott. The junior has thrown 6 TD passes against 4 interceptions. He has a raw QBR of 47.7 and a total QBR of 60.3. Elliott's raw QBR ranks him 101st in the country. His total QBR rank is kinder at 58th.
UNC will come out the gates hyped up Saturday. They have nothing to lose and a point to prove. A great crowd in Scott would go a long way towards blunting whatever momentum the Heels try to establish from the outset. Survive that early outburst and the Hoos will have the upper hand.
As always, the Heels field an impressive group of athletes. But they're prone to mistakes and not very good on defense, a trademark of Larry Fedora teams. Without great QB play, Fedora's aversion to defense has doomed him and the Heels since Mitch Trubisky became a Chicago Bear.
When playing a Fedora team, one does have to be mindful of trick plays. No Wahoo football fan will soon forget the fake punt his Southern Miss team ran out of its own endzone in a win at Scott Stadium.
But for all the warnings and bluster, losing teams find a way to lose. We see that play out every week across the country and it's a syndrome the Hoos know all too well. UVA will come out victorious and with a bowl bid clinched.
UVA wins 27 to 17.