Where: Kenan Stadium, Chapel Hill, NC
When: Saturday, September 17, 3:30 PM
Records: UNC 2-0, 0-0 ACC; UVa 2-0, 0-0 ACC
Last season when UNC went to Charlottesville, the Heels ended that cursed losing streak at Virginia that stood for nearly three decades. With the Cavs coming to Chapel Hill, UNC has a chance to break another losing streak at the expense of Thomas Jefferson's school. UNC has not won an ACC opener since 2000. That is ten years of futility in the opening game of the conference schedule. There is some debate as to how much difference it makes. Probably the more pertinent factor in this is not the fact it is the ACC opener but rather the fact it is versus a Coastal Division opponent at home in a game UNC should win. On paper it looks like a favorable matchup but like the Rutgers game last week, UNC has ways of erasing clear advantages.
The turnover margin will likely be the most watched aspect of this game. After UNC's horrid five turnover, zero takeaway performance last week the concern arises that UNC is not handling both sides of the turnover margin particularly well. The turnover part of that is less of an issue in my opinion because the sheer number of turnovers last week struck me as a little on the fluky side. Bryn Renner will make better decisions and Dwight Jones himself was surprised he fumbled the football. The real issue is the fact UNC has not taken away the football in two games. The reason being is UNC secondary has not played well thus far and interceptions are easier to come by than forced fumbles. As good as UNC's front seven is, they are not likely to force a ton of turnovers. What they can do is wreak havoc in the backfield which would force QB mistakes and result in INTs. The defensive backfield from the past few seasons would have done that. This one? That remains to be seen.
The turnovers not withstanding, it is clear the UNC offense is capable of moving the ball and scoring points. The passing game is there with Dwight Jones having posted two straight 100 yard receiving games to open the season. A year ago, Jones had his breakout game in Charlottesville hauling in two TD passes and 198 yards. It is a safe bet UVa will remember and be ready for him. The new wrinkle for UNC is Gio Bernard who has really established himself as the feature running back in this offense. Ryan Houston will get his carries but it will be interesting to watch what happens with Bernard being "the guy" in the running game.
Based on the very limited sample of two games, Virginia has leaned on running backs Kevin Parks and Perry Jones who have combined for 285 yards and five TDs so far. Parks has five TDs himself. Jones on the other hand is also the leading receiving so far this season with 102 yards and one TD. Virginia will be content to run the ball and if that doesn't work(and it probably won't against UNC's defensive front) look for the Cavs to use short passes to move the ball which has to dual benefit of keeping QB Michael Rocco from being pressured too much.
While simply winning matters more than winning the ACC opener, UNC is looking to start the season 3-0 and getting off to a 1-0 start in ACC play for the first time since 2000. Six weeks ago, no one knew how this season would unfold much less whether it could get off the ground with an undefeated home stand. With UNC going to the house of horrors(Atlanta) next week, getting the season started with a solid 3-0 footing matters greatly. Doing so with some of the focused execution the Heels displayed versus James Madison would be even better.
UNC 30 UVa 17