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
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.
UNC head coach Larry Fedora wasn’t pleased with the way his football team played Saturday in Charlottesville. But the Tar Heels snuck past the Cavaliers and in turn, kept alive their dreams of playing in the ACC Championship game.
***Listen to the story***
It was a complete team victory for Carolina. Defensive tackle Nazair Jones stepped up with a momentum-shifting interception late in the contest and wide receiver Mack Hollins snagged a pair of electrifying touchdowns.
But despite only coming in for a single play, backup quarterback Mitch Trubisky may have been the player of the game. After losing his helmet a play earlier, junior signal caller Marquise Williams was by rule, forced to sit out the following play and on a third down and 15 in the red zone, Trubisky took center stage.
The go-ahead score to T.J. Thorpe stunned the Charlottesville faithful, but for Coach Fedora, he wasn’t at all surprised by Trubisky’s heroics.
“We’ve got confidence in Mitch. We knew Mitch can go in and execute – that’s why we’ve done what we’ve done with him all year and why he’s played. This team has confidence in what he can do. He showed it,” Coach Fedora says.
But the game was sealed by an improbable gamble by Coach Fedora with the 28-27 lead. In a decision that was reminiscent of LSU head coach Les Miles, Coach Fedora elected to go for an onsides kick. The Tar Heels executed perfectly.
Coach Fedora, who’s now a spotless 5-0 against Virginia in his coaching career, says he had full confidence the play would work. He wanted the ball in his offense’s hands.
“It was there all day. It was a great time to do it. I wanted to have the ball in our hands when the game was over. Those guys did that,” Coach Fedora says.
Despite the dramatic road win that evened UNC’s record up at 4-4 overall and 2-2 in ACC action, Coach Fedora says he didn’t think his team played all that well.
“We didn’t play very well anywhere actually. What we had to do was find a way to win a football game. We did that,” Coach Fedora says.
The stat sheet backs up Coach Fedora. The Cavaliers had six more first downs than the Tar Heels, gained more yards and dominated the time of possession. But UNC had the edge where it counts most – the scoreboard.
Coach Fedora says the victory was made more special in light of the disturbing conclusions drawn from the Wainstein Report that has a dark cloud hovering around the University.
“We got a lot of people that are getting blasted. There’s a lot of negativity out there. I can assure you, our University, our football team and everybody that’s a Tar Heel will be much stronger from this. We’ll overcome it,” Coach Fedora says.
And with the gutsy win, Carolina’s improbable drive to the ACC Championship game in Charlotte stays alive, at least for another week.http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/comeback-carolina-keeps-coastal-crown-sight
With the loss, the Cavaliers fell to 4-4 on the year and a 2-2 mark in conference action.
It was Virginia who darted out to a quick 14-0 lead thanks in large part to Kevin Parks’ sturdy legs. The senior running back rumbled down the field, giving the home team a 14-0 advantage at the 3:06 mark in the first quarter.
Then, the Tar Heel offense promptly answered right back. A Marquise Williams 52-yard dash cut the deficit in half, and a 57-yard bomb to Mack Hollins tied the game at 14-all with 55 seconds to go in the opening quarter.
The Cavaliers pushed ahead with a 5-yard touchdown reception by Kevin Parks, but yet again, the Tar Heels responded quickly. It was Hollins again. This time, the explosive receiver snagged a 63-yard strike from Williams to knot the game up at 21 points apiece.
Virginia added an Ian Frye field goal to edge ahead 24-21 as both teams trotted into the halftime locker room.
The third quarter was a defensive stalemate with the Cavaliers able to manage a 37-yard field goal by Frye to push them ahead 27-21 with 5: 39 on the third quarter clock.
In the fourth quarter, with UVA driving, UNC’s Nazair Jones intercepted Lambert’s pass and returned it to Virginia’s 38-yard line. UNC was in prime scoring position with 6:09 to play, down six.
UNC’s Williams was forced to sit out a play on third down and ten inside the UVA red zone. Backup redshirt freshman Mitch Trubisky delivered. He threw a clutch touchdown pass to T.J. Thorpe to push the Tar Heels ahead 28-27.
Coach Fedora’s gamble to employ an onsides kick with four minutes left to play paid off. Hollins recovered. UNC ran down the clock to close out the vital ACC Coastal victory with the help of an illegal substitution penalty on UVA.
Next up for the Tar Heels is another pivotal road game next Saturday at 5-3 Miami.
WCHL’s Matt Oakes caught up with UVA head coach Mike London as his team prepares to take on the North Carolina Tar Heels this weekend in Charlottesville. London says the game is a ‘must-win’ ACC Coastal matchup. The two discussed the academic side of student-athletes, the Cavaliers’ leading rusher Kevin Parks and how best to defend UNC QB Marquise Williams.
***Listen to the interview***http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/scouting-report-virginia-coach-mike-london
Photo courtesy of idahostatesman.com
Offense: The Tar Heels have shown drastic improvement in this category as the season has progressed. With playmakers like running back T.J. Logan and receiver Bug Howard emerging in recent weeks, Carolina has a solid stable of options for sophomore Marquise Williams to distribute the ball to. Obviously, the big news this week was Bryn Renner’s shoulder injury that abruptly ended his Carolina career. It sure will be strange not having the senior leader out on the field for the Tar Heels on Saturday. But this sophomore Williams is a dynamic player that adds much needed wrinkles to Offensive Coordinator Blake Anderson’s offense. Will he take it and run? Will he sling it down the field? He is a perfect fit for the Fedora-style warp-speed playing style. And boy, we haven’t even mentioned that man named Eric Ebron. He leads the team in receiving yards as a tight end. He’s electric. Look out for him on Sundays in the very near future! So, it appears the Tar Heel offense will be humming nicely heading into The South’s Oldest Rivalry on Saturday.
The Virginia Cavaliers remain somewhat of an anomaly on this side of the ball. On film, the Wahoos appear to have all the makings of a strong offensive unit. They feature a fairly solid quarterback who can wing it around the field, a receiver in Darius Jennings who is a reliable target in the end zone, and an all-star running back in Kevin Parks who has gained 696 yards rushing this season and is an absolute bear to bring down. SO why do the Cavaliers rank 104th in the nation in scoring offense? Your guess is about as good as mine. Maybe they put it all together this week against the Tar Heels. But not likely.
Defense: The Tar Heels have suddenly figured out how to tackle. One-on-one tackling seemed an impossible task for the hapless Heels in the first three or four games of the season, but now is a different story. And a lot of this improvement has to go to Coach Vic Koenning’s relentless drive in practice. He says the Tar Heels have been simplifying everything and focusing all their energies on playing with passion and taking down the man in front of them. It appears to be paying off. They’re playing faster by avoiding the ‘paralysis by analysis’. The Carolina defense held Boston College to a mere 10 points last time out in Chapel Hill and rose up to hold the Wolfpack attack to field goals rather than touchdowns in the rivalry win in Raleigh a week ago. If you had to pick out one special player for UNC on defense, you would have to go with senior defensive end Kareem Martin. This guy has stepped up tremendously. Zero Dark Thursday didn’t turn the lights out on Martin. It’s as if the light bulb went off and boom! Here he is. He’s been causing havoc in the back field ever since and raising the level of the entire defense with him. Martin is an outstanding leader to many of the under-classmen on the Tar Heel roster. If they continue to make one-on-one tackles and play with the heart they’ve displayed for the last month or so, a ‘W’ may very well be in the cards for Carolina on Saturday.
As for the Wahoos, it is clear they have considerable size on the line. The defensive linemen are able to exert pressure on many opposing quarterbacks. These Cavaliers will certainly test the youthful offensive linemen of Carolina. However, the secondary has been questionable at times for Head Coach Mike London, especially in the fourth quarters. Virginia is giving up over 30 points per contest. And it seems like the defense is gasping for air by the end of the game-not a good sign heading into the Chapel Hill contest.
Intangibles: This one could be seen both ways I suppose. But it’s a home game for the Tar Heels. Inside Kenan Stadium under Head Coach Larry Fedora, Carolina sports an impressive 8-3 record. What’s more, a raucous crowd on Zero Dark Thursday nearly spurred UNC on to a big upset win against top-ten Miami earlier in 2013. Yes, Chapel Hill is friendly to the Tar Heels. And it’s Homecoming this weekend. Emotions will be flying for many of the players, especially for senior leaders like Kareem Martin and Tre Boston. They will want to put on memorable performances.
On the other hand, UVA has nowhere to go but up following their demolition at the hands of Clemson last weekend. Playing with no pressure is always an added boost. But let’s be honest, how much confidence can a team that has lost six straight really carry into a road contest against a surging squad finally finding their identity?
QUICK PICK: Tar Heels 28, Cavaliers 17http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/breakin-it-down-virginia