North Carolina at Virginia, 7:30 PM, ESPN
So the last time UNC played at Virginia for a Thursday night game it was 2006. UNC lost that game 23-0 which was the final straw for AD Dick Baddour and Bunting was fired by Monday morning. Bunting would go on to finish the season while UNC went about the business of hiring a new coach in the form of Butch Davis. The rest, as they say, is history and what a wild ride it has been from an NCAA scandal to UNC's first win in Charlottesville in over 20 years.
In the context of the current season, this game does not hold much meaning in the grand scheme of things. UNC is not eligible for the postseason and while the Heels hold to some hope of a first place finish in the Coastal Division, there is no prize at the end of that rainbow, not even a second rate bowl game to attend. Virginia is 4-6 and needs to win its final two games to get bowl eligible. After being left for dead with an 0-4 start in ACC play, the Cavaliers are showing signs of life with wins over NC State and Miami.Those wins have included to sound offensive performances for a team that has been dealing quarterback uncertainty all season long.
UNC on the other hand is trying to figure out which end is up when it comes to playing defense. The Tar Heels were beyond bad against Georgia Tech on Saturday and quite frankly let us never speak of it again. In essence this is a red hot offense facing a defense that has surrendered 103 points in the past two games. In that respect Virginia probably has the advantage. Even more daunting for UNC is offensive production on the road vs at home. In four home games against ECU and three ACC teams, UNC is averaging 42 ppg. In four games on the road against Louisville and three ACC opponents UNC is only averaging 28 ppg. One caveat to that is UNC played two road games(Wake Forest and UL) without Giovani Bernard. Could he have been a difference maker? It's possible but still, UNC has not produced as well on the road as they have at home.
If offensive production becomes an issue then the defense will have to step up in a huge way. Cavalier QB Michael Rocco is coming of his best passing performance of the season against Miami. Rocco threw for 300 yards and four touchdowns leading UVa on a late rally to beat the Hurricanes. A similar performance against UNC is not only expected, but shocking if it doesn't happen. UVa does have the ability to run the ball as well with Kevin Parks accumulating over 600 yards so far and posting 115 yards rushing against NC State two weeks ago. With UNC's penchant for missed assignments, a balance offensive attack would be a tough cover for this defense.
Virginia's defense could offer a challenge for UNC, however there appears to be a gulf between how the Cavaliers look on the statistical side(yards per game) versus what has actually happened in games from a points perspective. Virginia is 33rd in total defense, 32nd against the pass and 43rd against the run. However, Virginia has also given up a boatload of points on more than one occasion. Georgia Tech went for 56, Louisiana Tech had 44 while Miami and Duke went for 40 and 42 respectively. The only decent offense that did not play well against Virginia was NC State and that was almost entirely due to a rash of turnovers by the Wolfpack.
Of course the offense for UNC begins and ends with Giovani Bernard not to mention this game is one of his biggest opportunity to shine. Bernard is not going to win the Heisman Trophy but he is in the running for ACC Player of the Year. This is a nationally televised game on ESPN so it would not shock me if Bernard has an outstanding game. Without the bowl game, this likely the last game of the season UNC will enjoy any kind of spotlight since it is assumed next week's game against Maryland will be an ACC Network 12:30 special. UNC needs a big offensive performance from Bernard and with the bright lights of a Thursday night game, don't be surprised if it happens.
UNC 48 UVa 40