The Cavaliers were supposed to improve over last season or at least that's what their schedule was built for. After playing UCLA, Notre Dame and Boise State in three of the first four games of the year Virginia has been a very visible this season. Unfortunately the overarching theme of the year has been disappointment for Cavalier fans--Sad Virginia Fan has been seen across the country. The Cavaliers will enter Chapel Hill as big underdogs against a UNC team which has looked as good as any team in their division in recent weeks.
Matt Johns is the starting quarterback for Virgina. Johns has been solid this season if unspectacular, playing at almost the exact same level as he did last season (his adjusted QBR is 60.1 this year and was 60 flat last year). Johns completes 61.3% of his passes for 7.5 yards per attempt this season with 11 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. Johns has thrown the ball a lot this season, he throws 31.8 passes per game, a trend that will most likely continue against the Heels. Johns' main targets will be Canaan Severin and Taquan Mizzell. These two each have more than 400 receiving yards while no other Cavalier has more than 176 (belonging to former Tar Heel T.J. Thorpe). Severin is a senior wide receiver who serves as the down field threat for the Hoos. His average yards per reception is 13.9 yards downfield. Severin has been quiet recently, he broke out against Notre Dame with 153 yards but has failed to get more than 70 yards since. Mizzell serves not only as the team leader in catches with 35 but also the team's primary running back. Mizzell has 409 receiving yards this year and averages a healthy 11.7 yards per catch especially considering he is primarily a runner. Mizzell will most likely get Jeff Schoettmer or another linebacker this week which will create a key match-up when Virginia has the football.
Mizzell has gotten the rock on most of Virigina's carries this year and has been very average when carrying the football, averaging 3.8 yards per carry. Virginia's second string running back is Albert Reid who busted out for a 71 yard run against Pitt but has averaged 2.56 yards per carry on his other 36 carries. Johns is not a real threat to run, he has one 13 yard run this year but nothing else of note in the running game. Virginia's inability to run the ball effectively has been what has held them back on offense this year. Virginia runs a remarkably balanced offense, with 201 running plays to 200 pass plays so far this year. However, the running game has completely failed to complement the competent passing attack and Virginia has suffered on offense as a result.
The Cavaliers have not been particularly better on the other side of the ball either. The Cavaliers are 83rd in FBS in yards per game allowed and 112th in points per game allowed. Virginia is especially weak against the pass, allowing 252.3 yards per game, the 97th mark in the country. Virginia has been lit up through the air against quality opposition this year and the Heels should have few issues doing the same. The Heels will not be forced to throw in this game as the Cavaliers are 62nd against the run so the Heels should be able to be balanced in this game when they have the ball.
Let's Give Elijah Hood the Ball:
It took Elijah Hood all of 8 carries to break 100 yards against a Wake Forest defense which was supposed to be one of the best in the ACC. Hood has been great this year, averaging more than 6 yards per carry as Carolina's primary running back. The Heels should feed Elijah Hood some more and see if he can't tear up the Cavaliers. Carolina enters this game as a heavy favorite and if the Heels can chew up the clock then the game has less variance, which favors the Heels.
Keep them One-Dimensional:
The Heels should work to take away the run in this game and force Johns to have to beat them through the air. The Cavaliers' running game has been impotent all year and the Heels should not have a lot of trouble containing the Virginia running backs. If Johns has to beat Carolina himself, then the Heels are in great shape. Johns has one big receiver in Severin and he will be seeing a lot of Des Lawrence in this game. Lawrence should be able to take Severin away and limit Johns to check downs to his running back. This should knot up the Virginia offense nicely and make for an easy game for Carolina.
Take Care of Business:
Carolina faces Pitt next Thursday in the first of two critical games to potentially decide the ACC Coastal (the other is the home date with Duke). The Heels should aim for what they accomplished vs Wake Forest, make the game non-competitive in the fourth quarter. If the Heels are cruising, then the starters could get meaningful rest time to prepare for the short week and the trip to Pennsylvania. The Heels should get up by a lot early and then rest and ice up.