The Heels rolled into Charlottesville, Virginia as the #22 team in the nation and left with another conference win 35-14. The Heels took awhile to get going but thoroughly controlled the second half, outscoring the Cavaliers 21-7 in the second half. The strong performance by the Heels kept them on track to pressure Virginia Tech for the Coastal Division title. The defense led Carolina all afternoon and kept Carolina in command for the entire day. Ultimately, the Heels played a professional game against an inferior opponent to help power the Tar Heels to an easy victory.
Offensive Line: 7
The Heels’ offensive line played a complete and relatively clean game Saturday. The Heels are down two of their first choice linemen with Caleb Peterson and Jon Heck out for the game. The makeshift line played well in their absence in both the run and passing attack. Carolina created holes for Elijah Hood and T.J. Logan all day long while also holding their blocks long enough to allow the backs to get to the second level on almost every run play. The Heels averaged more than five yards per carry for the game but only a long of 15 yards. The Heels routinely gashed the Virginia defense for chunks of yards, and a quality performance from the offensive line was a big part of their excellent performance.
When Trubisky dropped back to pass, the offensive line put in a similarly solid performance. Trubisky was not hit once and only sacked twice. He had a clean pocket from which to throw all afternoon and picked out receivers in blue and white all day. He had time to throw and go through his reads, allowing the Heels to churn along on offense all game long. The Heels picked up pressures well and were able to succeed without having to pull extra men into the backfield to help out the line—a noticeable improvement over their recent performances.
Another place where the offensive line played a noticeably better game than they had in previous weeks was in the penalty department. The offensive line only had two false starts all afternoon, a vast improvement from the seven they recorded in Miami last week. If the line keeps up this high level of play for the rest of the season then the Heels will be in a strong position for the postseason.
Backs and Receivers: 7
Elijah Hood played his best game of the season with 107 yards on 16 carries for a 6.7 yards per carry average. Hood added a score on the afternoon and looked fully recovered from the injury that held him out two weeks ago. Hood ran around and through the Cavaliers defense on Saturday looking every bit as good as he did last season. T.J. Logan was no slouch either chipping in 61 yards on 10 carries and a touchdown of his own.
Logan did have a fumble in the red zone, but otherwise played a quality game. The Heels have had a bit of a fumble bug this season with both Hood and Logan coughing the ball up. The coaches need to continue to focus on ball control with both of their running backs going forward for the Heels to play at the level necessary to keep pressure on Virginia Tech in the Coastal Division.
In the first game without Mack Hollins, the wide receivers did not miss a beat. Eight Carolina players caught passes on Saturday with Ryan Switzer, Bug Howard and Austin Proehl all playing at a high level to make up for Hollins’ absence. Howard and Proehl caught long touchdown passes, with Howard’s coming on a trick play. Howard in particular was excellent on Saturday with seven catches on seven targets for 107 yards and a touchdown.
The receivers got good separation off of the line of scrimmage all game long. This allowed Austin Proehl to get lose for the Heels’ biggest pass play of the day, a perfectly thrown 46 yard touchdown pass. Proehl was a pleasant surprise against Virginia, filling in well for Hollins on the outside. Switzer actually led the team in catches with eight but only had 72 yards as most of his work came on quick swing passes rather than anything particularly exciting.
Trubisky played a solid game on Saturday but was not needed for anything spectacular on Saturday. The coaches opted for a simple game plan against Virginia and Trubisky managed the game well while going everything asked of him. His deep ball accuracy was a bit lacking Saturday, he only threw one deep ball well—the touchdown pass to Proehl—with his other passes being either too short or too long (Bug Howard still caught his touchdown pass despite the fact it was underthrown).
Trubisky’s decision making has stood out this season, he does not make poor decisions with the football, rather taking what the defense gives him and moving through his reads. When given as much time as he was Saturday, Trubisky is going to easily roll through any opponent. Ultimately, the Heels just had to sit back and relax Saturday and watch the offense roll when they were on the field. If Trubisky keeps playing like this then the Heels will cruise to double digit wins for the second straight season.
Defensive Line: 8
The defensive line has come on extremely strong over the past two weeks. Against the run, the Heels limited the Cavaliers to 2.8 yards per carry, their best performance of the season. They covered up gaps well and kept the Virginia offensive line from moving into the second level. The strong play of the defensive line against the run allowed the Carolina linebackers and safeties to stuff runs for small gains.
The defensive line also played a strong game against the pass, the team collected three sacks and bothered the Virginia quarterbacks all day long. The most impressive part of the defensive line’s performance was the fact that Virginia’s longest pass of the day went for only 16 yards. Carolina’s pass rush got home so quickly that Virginia was completely unable to get any routes to develop down the field. If the Heels keep this level of play up for the rest of the season then they should be favored to win each game for the rest of the year.
Even though Andre Smith was suspended for the first half, the Heels’ linebackers still played a quality game. The linebackers played well against both the run and the pass, covering a lot of ground in all facets of the game. For the second straight game, the linebackers were able to charge up the field against the run and limit opposing ball carriers to short gains. Over the course of this season, the Heels have seen where they tackle opposing runners slowly move closer to the opposing backfield. The defensive line and the linebackers have each improved as the season has gone on with a particular improvement seen in the linebackers’ tackling skills.
The linebackers have also improved in the passing game with their coverage skills getting better and better each week. The game against Virginia saw the Heels only surrender 143 yards through the air while Virginia threw exclusively short passes. Earlier in the season the linebackers struggled to cover short routes and would have given up bunches of yards after the catch with their tackling issues. Over the past few weeks, the Heels have gotten better in each of those facets of the game and this has helped Carolina turn their defense into a strength for this team.
Defensive Backs: 6
The strong play of the rest of the defense took a lot of pressure off of the defensive backs. The Heels were able to rotate in a strong cast of secondary players throughout this game and everyone on the unit played well. The Heels had four different defensive backs break up a pass on the afternoon and the secondary was the key reason why the Cavaliers only completed 22 of 45 pass attempts.
The secondary took advantage of the good work by the rest of the defense and ensured that everything happened in front of them. This posture allowed them to sit back and play good pass coverage, clean up in the running game and break up potential big plays before they happened. The defense played a complete game Saturday with all three facets coming in strong. If this keeps up then the Heels should not have much to worry about for the rest of the season.
Special Teams: 4
The Heels faced a mostly uneventful game in the special teams department. There were few opportunities to return punts or kicks for any meaningful yardage. Nick Weiler and Tom Sheldon played up to their normal high standards with quality performances in the kicking game. The special teams unit was on the field for the Cavaliers’ first touchdown, a fake play. On that play the special teams failed to correctly assign pass coverage out of an unique set. However, the special teams unit is not accustomed to pass defense and this is not an overly large demerit.
Carolina’s coaches deployed a relatively conservative game plan against Virginia. When the offense came out sluggish to start the game, the coaches responded with a trick play to jump-start the Heels. For the rest of the game the coaches called a simple and effective game plan. The staff trusted the players to outplay an inferior opponent and were able to sit back and relax while they executed the game plan to perfection. The offense showed no sign of slowing down despite the loss of Hollins and two offensive linemen, a sign of strong and effective coaching on offense.
The coaching performance on the defensive side of the ball was even more impressive. Over the course of this season, the coaching staff has successfully turned the Carolina defense into a strength of the team. The Heels have just completed a two game stretch where their defense controlled the opposing offense. Against both Miami and Virginia, the defense, not the offense dominated the game and ensured that the Heels would have a victory.
Carolina’s coaches also deserve credit for cutting down on penalties over the course of the year. The team played remarkably flag-free football last season before the beginning of this season saw the Heels attract a lot more flags. Over the past few weeks, the Heels have gradually cut down on the flags with only seven being thrown this this week. These numbers are still high for a team but the coaches have made a real effort to cut down on the flags and the team’s play has improved. With the strong performances by the offense and especially the defense, this team could be even better than last year’s if they continue to put it all together over the rest of the season.