Despite a slow start, the No. 22 UNC football team eventually recovered and outclassed its opponents in every possible way on Saturday—defeating the Virginia Cavaliers 35-14 in Charlottesville for the team’s ninth straight win on the road.
Now 6-2 in 2016 with a 4-1 ACC mark, the Tar Heels received yet another solid performance from junior quarterback Mitch Trubisky, who threw for 310 yards and three touchdowns.
UNC tailbacks Elijah Hood and TJ Logan each had solid days on the ground, as well. The duo combined for 168 yards with both players making a trip into the end zone.
Virginia (2-5, 1-2 ACC), meanwhile, was limited to just 253 total yards as head coach Larry Fedora’s team continues to make drastic improvements on that side of the ball.
Although it took until the second half for things to really get moving, the Tar Heels did everything they could to ensure this most recent road win wouldn’t need to come down to the final minutes.
“We talked about it at the beginning of the year that if we were gonna be successful and reach our goals this year we were gonna have to be road warriors,” Fedora said after the game. “And they’ve done that, they really have.”
With senior wide receiver Mack Hollins lost for the season with a broken collarbone, it seemed like the Tar Heels needed a few drives to find their rhythm early on. Not only that, UNC was without the services of Caleb Peterson and Jon Heck—two of its most experienced and talented offensive linemen.
This led to a sloppy first half that saw the Tar Heels up just 14-7, with each team scoring a touchdown on a trick play.
Still, though, UNC was able to manufacture three touchdown drives in the second half behind a solid running game and the combination of Trubisky and receiver Bug Howard—who put up his second straight 100-yard game while wearing Hollins’ No. 13 as a tribute.
“To me, we were very inconsistent in the first half,” Fedora said. “I thought we ran the ball well, so those offensive linemen must have done some nice things up there for us to run the ball the way we did.
“We just needed to be a little more consistent,” he continued. “And part of that is when you’ve got two or three new guys up there—you’re working on that.”
The UNC offense was forced into three-and-outs on four separate occasions, while also losing two fumbles during the game. The Tar Heels were able to make plays when they were necessary, but may not have had such an easy time without the help of their defense.
Facing immense pressure from a rejuvenated Tar Heel defensive line, Virginia completed less than half of its 45 passes and averaged less than three yards per carry. Once considered the team’s weak link, it could easily be argued that the defense has been the more impressive unit in back-to-back games.
“They’ve got confidence,” Fedora said about his defense. “They’re getting better every week. They’re playing solid. Everybody’s where they’re supposed to be, and they’re taking care of their job.
With just three games remaining against ACC competition, the Tar Heels find themselves still tied atop the Coastal Division.
Off on a bye next week, though, they’ll get a chance to rest and watch as Virginia Tech and Pitt—which are each tied with UNC—face each other in a game that’ll have crucial implications on the rest of the season.
While the Tar Heels will certainly have their eyes on that matchup, the most important aspect of the bye week—according to their coach—is taking a step back from football.
“We gotta get some guys healed up,” Fedora said. “That’s probably our biggest concern, is getting these guys that have played a lot some rest and recovery—and get ‘em back where they’re feeling fresh.”
UNC takes next week off, but will return to action at Kenan Stadium on Saturday Nov. 5 against Georgia Tech.
Saturday’s game featured 17 total punts, including 10 by Virginia and seven for the Tar Heels. The last time a UNC opponent punted 10 times was Old Dominion in 2013.
Over the first couple weeks of the 2016 college football season, many analysts wondered if Virginia was among the worst teams in a Power Five conference.
The Cavaliers have found life recently, however, shifting the narrative quite a bit—with some wondering if the UNC football team’s trip to Charlottesville this weekend should be viewed as a trap game.
Prior to the season, it was widely recognized that the stretch from the middle of September to the middle of October—the first four ACC games– would be toughest slate of opponents the Tar Heels would see all season.
While UNC’s loss against Virginia Tech was its first at home since 2014, the team can take pride in opening conference play 3-1 against a group that included three teams ranked in the top 25 at the time and a Pitt squad that remains one of the tougher groups in the ACC Coastal Division.
Taking into account Virginia Tech’s loss at Syracuse this past weekend, quarterback Mitch Trubisky and the Tar Heels enter the home stretch with a great shot to repeat as Coastal Champions, provided they stay focused on the big picture.
“I never thought we were out of it just because we lost one game,” Trubisky said at Monday’s press conference. “It’s a long season, and pretty much anything can happen.
“That gives us confidence because [we] want to see things fall in place for us to be able to reach our goals at the end.”
UNC’s defensive resurgence not only lifted the team to a win over Miami, it also gave the Tar Heels a return to the Top 25—coming in at No. 22 this week.
That hasn’t always meant good things, however.
On both occasions UNC has played as a ranked team this season, they’ve come up on the wrong side of the scoreboard.
Although nobody has confused this Virginia team for Georgia or Virginia Tech—which were each ranked when they beat UNC—the Cavaliers have gone 2-1 while averaging 38 points per game in their last three outings.
This comes after they opened the year 0-3 under new head coach Bronco Mendenhall–with a sputtering offense that scored just over 18 points per game in losses to Oregon, UCONN, and Richmond, an FCS school.
UNC defensive coordinator Gene Chizik spoke after practice Tuesday about the difference he’s seen in his opponent this season.
“It’s night and day different,” Chizik said of Virginia’s transformation. “I think they were really trying to figure out who they were, and what they wanted to be and what their players could actually do productivity-wise.
“They’ve definitely hit that groove now,” he continued. “They’re very efficient in what they do—throwing the ball and running the ball.”
Quarterback Kurt Benkert has been a large part of Virginia’s recent improvement, as he’s picked up his game significantly over the last three weeks. While Benkert is a serviceable player under center, Chizik pinpointed tailback Taquan Mizzell as the Cavaliers’ most dangerous threat.
So far this season, Mizzell leads Virginia in rushing and is fourth on the team in both receptions and receiving yards.
He also set an ACC record last season for most receiving yards in a single season by a running back, with 721.
“He’s really a great player,” Chizik said of Mizzell. “They find ways to get him the ball, and rightly so.
He’s great catching the ball out of the backfield and he’s great with the ball in his hands as a running back,” the coach added. “He’s just a very productive player.”
Taking into account UNC’s long-term goals and Virginia’s recent upswing in performance, it’s easy to see why it would be an awful time for the Tar Heels to sleep on their opponents this week.
Obviously every team wants to win all its games, but upsets happen all the time when one team overlooks another that could be considered less talented.
That, of course, is where the idea of the trap game originated.
Tar Heel fans shouldn’t fear, however, as Trubisky is doing his part to keep that negative mentality out of the locker room this week.
“I don’t see it as a trap game,” Trubisky said. “It’s a big game for us in the Coastal. Virginia’s gotten better each week. They’re gonna be a really tough team.
“It’s a big game for us,” he continued. “I don’t see it [as a trap], and I hope nobody else on our team sees it that way.”http://chapelboro.com/featured/unc-football-doesnt-buy-in-to-trap-game-mentality-against-virginia
Not only was Hayley Carter seeking her first national championship on Sunday at the Michael Case Tennis Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma–the UNC junior, ranked No. 1 in the nation, was hoping to give the Tar Heels back-to-back singles titles after Jamie Loeb won it all a year ago.
Unfortunately, Danielle Collins had other ideas.
The Virginia Cavaliers’ star defeated Carter in straight sets, 6-3, 6-2, in the NCAA Women’s Tennis Final–putting on an absolute clinic in a matchup between the country’s top two players.
It’s the second career national championship for Collins, who also won as a sophomore in 2014.
For Carter, it’s a bitter pill to swallow after being atop the individual rankings since March 8. Her reign of nearly three months began shortly after she earned a straight set victory (7-6, 6-3) over Collins on March 4.
On top of that, it was Collins and Virginia that eliminated the Tar Heels from the NCAA Team Tournament just last week.
The match was just the third time all season Carter was defeated in straight sets–and first since November.
A native of Hilton Head, South Carolina, Carter finishes the season with a record of 49-5.http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/collins-defeats-hayley-carter-in-straight-sets-ends-uncs-back-to-back-hopes
For three months, a span that includes 21 matches and a perfect 17-0 ACC record, the No. 3 UNC women’s tennis team has consistently found a way to top its competition.
That narrative came crashing to a sudden halt Thursday morning in Tulsa, Oklahoma at the Michael Case Tennis Center–when the No. 14 Virginia Cavaliers shocked the Tar Heels 4-2 in the NCAA Tournament round of 16.
The nation’s No. 12 player, Virginia’s Julia Elbaba, put the finishing touches on the upset by defeating No. 41 Whitney Kay, 4-6, 7-6, 6-3, in a three-set thriller.
They battled for over three hours, but head coach Brian Kalbas’s Tar Heels came up just a bit short on a day that required a number of clutch performances.
After losing the doubles point for just the third time all year, UNC (31-3) recovered to take a 2-1 lead during singles competition with strong play from Ashley Dai and Marika Akkerman.
Akkerman finished first with a 6-1, 6-1 win over Erica Susi, while Dai defeated Cassie Mercer 6-2, 6-3 shortly after.
The Cavaliers (19-10) then tied it up 2-2 with a 6-3, 6-1 victory by Meghan Kelley over the Tar Heels’ Kate Vialle.
Each of the other three singles matches, though, needed three sets to decide a winner.
UNC freshman Jessie Aney, ranked No. 57, won her first set, 6-3, against Virginia senior Stephanie Nauta. Nauta recovered, however, and took the match by winning each of the next two sets 6-0, 6-0.
This left the Tar Heels’ fate in the hands of their two best players–Kay and No. 1 Hayley Carter.
Each would need to pull out wins for UNC to advance, while Virginia needed to win just one of the final two matches to punch its ticket to the quarterfinals.
Locked in a battle between the country’s top two players, Carter was leading her match with No. 2 Danielle Collins, 6-4, 2-6, 5-4, when Elbaba finished off Kay and clinched the team victory for Virginia.
Trailing 4-3 in the final set against Elbaba, Kay had three opportunities for a break point–which would have tied the set 4-4.
Momentum swung back Virginia’s way, however, as Elbaba recovered to win both the game and the match for her team.
The Tar Heels could only watch as their opponents–who they had previously beaten twice this season–celebrated on the court afterwards.
In search of its first series victory over Virginia since 2012, the No. 15 UNC baseball team instead was a victim once again of the Sunday blues–falling 15-9 to the Cavaliers for its fourth straight loss in a series finale.
The Tar Heels–now 25-11 (9-9 ACC)–walked a season-high 13 batters, and hit one, in perhaps their sloppiest pitching performance of the season. Virginia’s 15 runs were the most UNC has allowed in 2016, beating the previous mark of 10 set by Georgia Tech in late March.
At the plate, Brian Miller had a perfect day for the Tar Heels, going 5-for-5, while the “Toy Cannon,” second baseman Eli Sutherland, went 2-for-4 with four RBIs.
Victory has been almost guaranteed this season when the Tar Heels get hitting performances as good as they got Sunday, racking up 15 hits to Virginia’s 12.
Entering the game UNC was 18-0 in games where it scored at least six runs and 21-2 in games where it out-hit its opponent.
UNC also built leads of 3-0 and 5-3 early on, but struggled to find the strike zone, letting Virginia (23-15, 9-9 ACC) to climb back each time.
Right-hander Jason Morgan started the game for the Tar Heels, but was pulled in the second inning after his fourth walk loaded the bases. He was replaced by junior reliever AJ Bogucki, who walked Ernie Clement before surrendering a two-run single to Matt Thaiss–tying the score at 3-3.
After UNC went back ahead in the top of the fourth inning, Bogucki retired the first two men he faced in the bottom of the frame. Then he walked the bases the loaded.
The next man up, shortstop Daniel Pinero, cleared the bases with a double down the left-field line to put the Cavaliers back in front.
Next out of the bullpen for the Tar Heels was Spencer Trayner. More trouble ensued, as Trayner walked the first two men he faced. Meeting a similar fate as Bogucki, he only pitched to one more–allowing a bases-clearing double to Cameron Simmons.
At that point, Virginia led the game 9-5 but had just five hits–two of which were three-run doubles.
A two-run homer in the fifth off freshman Taylor Sugg by the Cavaliers’ star catcher, Thaiss, led to Virginia following its six-run inning with a four-run inning.
UNC plated three runs in the sixth inning and one in the seventh, but could never keep Virginia from doing the same. The Cavaliers added a tally in their half of the sixth and another in the eighth.
By the end of the game the Tar Heels had used seven pitchers, who had totaled an incredible 208 pitches.
The Tar Heels will return home to Boshamer Stadium on Tuesday for a game against Coastal Carolina. First pitch for that game is set for 6 p.m.
Most people around the UNC baseball program were aware of the talent JB Bukauskas had before he ever stepped on campus.
A potential first-round MLB Draft picking coming out of high school, he opted to attend UNC for at least three years rather than head straight for the pros.
Now a sophomore, Bukauskas is living up to those expectations and then some–striking out 11 hitters on Saturday to lead the No. 15 Tar Heels to an 8-1 win over the Virginia Cavaliers in Charlottesville.
UNC (24-11, 9-8 ACC) desperately needed the victory in order to avoid dipping below .500 in the conference standings.
Home runs by freshman Kyle Datres–who was left out of the lineup in Friday’s loss–and senior Eli Sutherland gave Bukauskas more than enough run support in his matchup with Virginia’s Adam Haseley–who had yet to lose a decision entering the day.
Virginia (22-15, 8-9 ACC), like most teams who have faced the right-hander this year, simply could not stay on balance with the combination of Bukauskas’ 97 mph fastball and hard 88 mph slider.
The dominant effort on the mound comes a week after Bukauskas set a career-high with 13 strikeouts against Virginia Tech. A native of Ashburn, Virginia, he now has at least 11 strikeouts in three of his last four starts.
It was, as expected, a pitcher’s duel through the first four innings. The teams combined for no runs on just five hits during that span.
Datres finally broke the scoreless streak in the top of the fifth when he got the sweet spot on a pitch by Haseley–sending it deep into left field for a solo home run, his second long bomb of the year.
A pair of errors by Virginia in the sixth inning was what finally caught up to Haseley, and allowed UNC some breathing room.
The first error allowed Tyler Ramirez to become the second man on base for the Tar Heels with no outs in the inning. The second error, a throwing miscue by third baseman Justin Novak, allowed both Ramirez and Adam Pate to score.
Haseley then walked Datres, which forced the Cavaliers to turn to their bullpen a bit earlier than they expected.
A pair of Virginia relievers were needed to finish off the frame, but not before they walked Cody Roberts with the bases loaded and balked during the next at-bat. The mistakes allowed UNC to open up a 5-0 lead after handing the Tar Heels an additional two runs without much resistance.
After scraping across one run in their half of the sixth, the Cavaliers picked up right where they left off for the seventh.
Walks to Pate and shortstop Logan Warmoth to begin the inning set up Sutherland’s fourth home run of the season for UNC–a three-run bomb that brought the score to its final margin.
Bukauskas threw one more inning after that, but the Tar Heels turned to Brett Daniels, Cole Aker, and Spencer Trayner to finish the game.
The Tar Heels will go for their first series win over Virginia since 2012 in Sunday’s rubber match, with first pitch set to be thrown at 1 p.m.
For all the enthusiasm that Wednesday’s blowout of No. 8 South Carolina produced in Chapel Hill, the UNC baseball team had to immediately turn its focus to its road series this weekend in Charlottesville against the defending national champs.
The same fortunes that were with them in Charlotte against the Gamecocks, however, didn’t show themselves in the series opener–as the Virginia Cavaliers defeated the No. 13 Tar Heels 7-4 on Friday night.
UNC falls to 24-10 (8-8 ACC) in 2016, as ace Zac Gallen surrendered five runs in the first three innings– just one week removed from being named National Pitcher of the Week for what was easily the best performance of his career.
Junior left fielder Tyler Lynn went 3-for-3 with a home run–having himself a career night–but the Tar Heels continued to struggle since the meat of conference play began three weeks ago against Georgia Tech. In that span UNC is just 6-8.
So is life in the ACC, which boasts six of the nation’s top 25 teams–and that’s not even including Virginia.
The Cavaliers have been one of the nation’s top programs in recent years but are just 22-15 this year after losing a few key pieces.
One of Virginia’s returning stars, junior right-hander Connor Jones gave his team six solid innings of work Friday night. Jones (7-1) was far from perfect–laboring for 117 pitches and striking out just two hitters–but he did enough to get the job done.
UNC took a 2-0 lead against Jones in the top of the second inning, though, when freshman catcher Cody Roberts’ sacrifice fly was mishandled at home plate. Zack Gahagan, who had reached base on an earlier error, and Lynn scored on the play.
Jones then found his groove and forced eight groundouts over the next four frames while holding the Tar Heels scoreless.
Meanwhile, the Cavalier offense scraped across one run in their half of the second inning before taking it to Gallen in the third for four more.
Catcher Matt Thaiss, another key contributor to last year’s title-winning team, slapped an RBI single to tie the game at 2-2. After a walk loaded the bases, Nate Eikhoff cleared them with a huge triple to right-center field–giving Virginia a commanding lead.
Not until the seventh inning did UNC get another push from its offense. Lynn led off the frame with a triple against Jones–his second hit of the day–and then scored the next at-bat on a single by Roberts.
Virginia broke through for two more runs in the eighth against the Tar Heel bullpen, however, which put a damper on any comeback hopes.
Lynn hit a solo shot in the top of the ninth off closer Kevin Doherty, but the UNC rally fell short as Doherty induced a pair of flyouts before Tommy Doyle came on and struck out Tyler Ramirez to seal the deal.
The second game of the series is scheduled to begin Saturday at 4 p.m. with the Tar Heels sending sophomore JB Bukauskas to the mound. Bukauskas, like Gallen, had a career-high 13 strikeouts last week against Virginia Tech.
UNC head coach Roy Williams said last week that if his team was going to go to Washington D.C. and play in the ACC Tournament it might as well try and win the whole dadgum thing.
His No. 7 Tar Heels messed around and did just that in their 61-57 win over the No. 4 Virginia Cavaliers Saturday night—carried in the clutch by their defense and a signature performance by sophomore point guard Joel Berry.
The tempo of the game fit Virginia’s slow-paced, grind-it-out style perfectly—but in the end the tougher team won.
That’s become the new narrative with these Tar Heels, who held the ultra-efficient Virginia offense to just 36 percent from the field—the night after limiting Notre Dame in much the same way.
Like Rocky Balboa in Rocky II, the Tar Heels took their opponents best punches, but kept on fighting—and in the end came out champions. Although Williams had a different boxing analogy in mind.
“Playing Virginia we knew it was gonna be a battle all the way down to the end,” Williams said afterwards. “I was even dumb enough this morning to tell ‘em about Ali and Frazier—how they just fought and fought and fought.
“We thought it would be that kind of game because we have the greatest respect for Virginia’s program.”
After a back-and-forth first half—and a tie game at halftime—UNC trailed Virginia 44-42 with just under 10 minutes to play.
Then the Joel Berry Show started.
Berry tied the game with a pair of free throws, then hit a jumper to give UNC the lead for good, as the Tar Heels went on to complete a 20-7 scoring run for a 55-46 advantage.
Virginia closed the gap with a barrage of three-pointers in the last two minutes before Isaiah Hicks scored in the post and Berry hit four clutch free throws over the last 16 seconds, finishing with 19 points. And, yes, he was named the tournament’s MVP for his efforts over the weekend.
“I just tried to shoot it with confidence if I got the ball in my hands,” Berry said. “And that’s the reason I just hit those shots—just because it was all about confidence and using my instincts.
“Coach tells us all the time, ‘If you’re gonna shoot the ball, put it in the basket.’”
Also critical to UNC’s win was the way it held ACC Player of the Year Malcolm Brogdon in check.
Guarded most of the game by the smaller-but-quicker Marcus Paige, Brogdon scored 15 points on just 6-of-22 shooting.
Virginia looked lost on offense for much of the second half, leading to an eight-minute stretch over those final ten minutes where the Cavaliers failed to make a single shot from the field.
“We had them to where they were taking shots they didn’t want to take,” Berry said. “Malcolm was going in and shooting fadeaway shots and that’s what we wanted.
“And then also, I think we picked up the intensity and got them out of what they wanted to do,” he added. “And limited them to one shot.”
Only Brice Johnson and Paige joined Berry scoring in double figures against Virginia’s pack-line defense—despite neither having their best offensive games.
Johnson scored 12 points, but was constantly harassed and double teamed—limiting him to just eight shots.
Paige scored 13, hit clutch baskets inside the arc but missed all seven of his three-point attempts.
Despite all that, the seniors will be able to leave Chapel Hill calling themselves champions—a feeling Paige tried to put into words.
“It’s been a long ride,” he said. “It’s been fun though. This is what makes it all worth it—is to have a team come together in my last year —work through a lot of adversity—and become outright champions and win the tournament.”
“To finally get over that hump and win it, and get a chance to celebrate with my team has been fantastic.”
UNC will likely receive a number one seed in the NCAA Tournament and play the first two rounds at the PNC Arena in Raleigh. However, that won’t be made official until the brackets come out late Sunday afternoon.
For all the talk hyping the No. 7 UNC men’s basketball team as championship contenders, the results against the ACC’s top teams have not quite backed it up to this point.
A blowout home win against Miami the only outlier, the Tar Heels are now 1-4 against ranked teams inside the conference after Saturday’s 79-74 loss in Charlottesville against No. 3 Virginia.
The Cavaliers were in control of the game throughout, holding at least a share of the lead for the final 34 minutes—knocking UNC back to 23-6 overall and into a tie atop the ACC with Miami at 12-4 in conference play.
Virginia improves to 22-6 in all games and 11-5 in the league thanks to a super-human performance by senior guard Malcolm Brogdon, who scored 15 of his 26 points in the first 12 minutes of the night.
Afterwards, UNC head coach Roy Williams gave high praise to the Cavaliers’ star before lamenting his team’s missed opportunities.
“Malcolm in the first half was about as good a performance we’ve had against us this season,” Williams said. “Maybe in several years.
“But we couldn’t quite get over the hump.”
It wasn’t that the Tar Heels played poorly, by any means.
They just came up short in the moments that mattered most—again.
UNC shot better percentages from both two and three-point range, and won the rebounding battle. Sophomore guard Joel Berry even had a career-high 21 points and five three-pointers.
Anytime the Tar Heels appeared to have an opening, though, Virginia snuffed it out right away.
Some wondered if senior forward Brice Johnson, who scored 12 points on nine shots, should have seen the ball more. On other nights, that may be a quality argument—but this game was about timely plays, and Virginia clearly won that battle.
“Second half against Duke we couldn’t throw the ball in the ocean,” Williams said, referring to the last controversy surrounding Johnson’s touches. “Today, I think we shot 50 percent in the second half so just because we didn’t throw it to Brice, it didn’t kill our offense.”
For a portrait of how the night played out, both Johnson and Justin Jackson missed the first free throw of “one-and-one” chances that could have tightened the game in the final six minutes—and each time the misses ended up leading to points for the Cavaliers, who handed the Tar Heels their fifth road loss of the season.
“Some teams play exceptionally well wherever they play,” Williams said after the game. “Some teams play much, much harder at home.
“But down the stretch Virginia had a greater purpose tonight,” the coach added. “Why they had it, I don’t know. I think against Miami we had a greater sense of purpose.”
As minor as a couple of missed free throws may seem, it’s those plays that often decide the outcome of games between teams as talented and highly-ranked as UNC and Virginia.
Whether it’s a failure to call timeout late against Duke or blowing a 15-point lead against Notre Dame—this Tar Heel team has yet to show the killer instinct that wins championships.
“It’s all those little things that made them end up with more points than we did,” Williams said. “But I thought the biggest factor of the game, to me, is that [Virginia] had played with a high level of intensity—from my point of view—on both offense and defense.
“I think they were the actors and we were the reactors the whole night.”
Just two regular season games remain on the schedule for the Tar Heels, beginning with Monday’s final home game against Syracuse.
The return game with Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium is set for next Saturday.
With some fans eyeing next week’s Thursday night showdown Pittsburgh–one of two teams tied with UNC atop the ACC Coastal Division–it’s worth noting that the Tar Heels still have to face the Virginia Cavaliers this Saturday at Kenan Stadium.
Despite coming in to the game as heavy favorites, they refuse to let their focus stray from the task at hand.
Virginia enters this week 2-4 against all competition. In the ACC the Cavaliers have put together a 1-1 mark after a wild 44-38 overtime victory against Syracuse in their last outing.
When UNC Head Coach Larry Fedora looks at the tape, though, he doesn’t see a 2-4 team at all.
“If you really look at Virginia, their four losses are against teams that were all ranked at one point,” Fedora said at his weekly press conference. “When I look at that film, I’m saying ‘That’s a good football team that’s gonna come in here.”
A 34-16 opening week loss to then No. 13 UCLA was followed by a heartbreaking 34-27 defeat at home to a Notre Dame team ranked 11th at the time. The Cavaliers’ other losses were to Pittsburgh on the road—a close 26-19 score—and a 56-14 blowout at home against Boise State on national television.
UNC sophomore tailback Elijah Hood says there is no way Virginia can back down from anyone after going through that kind of early season gauntlet.
“When you play a schedule like that, it definitely toughens you up,” Hood said. “I mean, they’re used to seeing talented players, guys who can do a lot of things—some special guys. So they won’t be phased by us.
“They’ve seen some of the better teams in the country already,” he added. “So they’re not gonna be too phased by just, ‘Oh, it’s North Carolina.’”
Traditionally speaking, Hood is right when he says Virginia shouldn’t be phased by the Tar Heels. After all this is a program without an ACC title since 1980. What is there to fear?
Well, the 2015 group has won five games in a row and looks like it has the potential to at least compete for the conference crown—something Fedora continues to hammer home to his players.
“Most people, they get complacent or they [think], ‘Oh things are going great, so I’ll just relax.’” Fedora said. “Well, that’s not how [we] got here. And so we gotta make sure that we continue to do the little things that we harp on a daily basis.
“They get tired of me, I say it every single day–all these little things that I talk about every day,” the coach continued. “Most of the time it’s going in one ear and out the other, but I’m still saying it every day to reemphasize it that that’s how [we] got to this point. And that’s what it’s going to take to keep being successful.”
Some of those little things may be nitpicky–like getting more consistent offensive drives instead of relying on big plays—but others Fedora has mentioned, such as better defense on third downs will be crucial if the Tar Heels want to win games late in the year.
Sophomore defensive end Dajaun Drennon says the difference between this year’s group and last year’s group is overall team chemistry, which has made learning from criticism much easier for everybody.
“A lot of guys we’re just buying in more to what the coaches are saying,” Drennon said. “And I wouldn’t even say it’s really the coaching staff. I just feel like we’re playing together as a team. We’re trying to get this done for each other.”
Although they’ve won big in recent weeks, the Tar Heels are still a team learning how to manage the expectations that come with winning every week, especially in the dominant fashion with which they’ve been doing it.
The best way they can show their progress in that regard is to come out on Saturday and defeat Virginia in convincing fashion.
Pittsburgh can wait.
The game is scheduled to begin at 3:30 p.m. and will be broadcast live on WCHL’s airwaves. It will also be televised on the Regional Sports Network.