It wasn't the prettiest victory, but it was an important one. The Tar Heels took the 116th meeting of the South's Oldest Rivalry, beating Virginia 28 to 17 and getting their first ACC opening victory since 2000. The team is still has its rough spots, but when things are clicking they're aching of beauty.
If there's one thing Carolina proved this afternoon, is that they can score quickly. The Heels had touchdown drives that took 2:01, 1:58, and 2:12, and the engine behind all three was Giovani Bernard. Bernard had only 12 carries, but gained 102 yards, with long runs of 40 and 29, and balanced that t five catches for 31 yards. The rest of the running game was equally successful, with Ryan Houston scoring two touchdowns and even A.J. Blue getting the carries on two series, finishing with 40 yards on nine runs. There was also a liberal used of the end-around, with Erik Highsmith, Sean Tapley, and Jheranie Boyd all getting double-digit yardage from the play.
On the passing side, despite Dwight Jones being the focus of the Cavalier defense, he still had five catches for 85 yards and score. Highsmith and Boyd were the other targets, and with the exception of one pass to Boyd that slipped through his fingers and cost the Heels a sure touchdown, they were equally effective. More importantly, Bryn Renner kept his passes out of the Virginia secondary's hands, throwing for 143 yards with no interceptions. There was a fumbled snap that turned the ball over on the UVa five, when a touchdown would all but seal the game, but that was one of the few miscues from the quarterback.
And then there was the defense. The line stood up to a very good running game – Kevin Parks was better than I'd seen – and allowed 170 yards, but for the most part only rarely giving up the big play. The secondary couldn't say the same. Michael Rocco torched the UNC defense for 298 yards, and was kept from having more by his own receivers' incompetence more than than anything else. It was only very late in the game that UNC seemed to get a handle on things, with a pair of interceptions by Matt Merletti to end the Cavaliers' last two drives. Hopefully, that will be the start of something, because this secondary is going to have to be at their peak for Georgia Tech.
I come away from this game feeing a little better about this team's chances than I did last week, but not much. No one expected in the preseason that the Yellow Jackets would be playing this well, and the Heels are showing plenty of chinks in their own armor. But they've done everything they've needed to to win so far; we can only hope this continues once they head out on the road.