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Three things we learned from UNC’s win vs. Virginia

Polling disrespect and Howard honoring Hollins

NCAA Football: North Carolina at Virginia Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports

After a series of games against ranked opponents, UNC got a bit of a break on Saturday against Virginia. They did manage to go on the road and win again, as has been their tendency. With the tougher part of their ACC schedule behind them, these are games the Tar Heels should be winning and they did just that.

Here are three things we learned from Carolina’s win against Virginia.

New 13 like the old 13

Bug Howard decided to honor his injured teammate Mack Hollins by wearing Hollins’ 13 in the game on Saturday. Hollins was, of course, UNC’s biggest deep threat for Mitch Trubisky. In Hollins’ place, Howard was able to make his way down the field for a touchdown on the trick play that featured T.J. Logan getting the snap, pitching it to Ryan Switzer who tossed it to Mitch Trubisky who launched it down the field to Howard for the score.

UNC’s wide receivers have to step up and replace Hollins’ ability to stretch the defense, and Howard is as good a candidate as any to try and be that player. Hopefully the good luck of wearing 13 wears off on him in that respect going forward.

Defense has proven me wrong

The takeaway the last few weeks consecutively has been that the defense has stepped up and improved in a big way. While not without its faults, the unit has managed to go from a huge liability to something maybe even resembling a strength as they have grown this season. Big stops have come more and more frequently, and Virginia managed to only convert on seven third downs on Saturday.

Before UNC’s game against Illinois, I was on a podcast for The Champaign Room, our SB Nation sister site for the Illini. I said that Carolina’s defense just wasn’t going to be good enough to win them games. It felt very true at the time, but it’s no longer really the case. This defense has stepped up in a big way to become more of a commanding presence, and they have really held their own.

So much disrespect

This one is cheating a little bit, because it’s not something we actually learned from the Virginia game. Rather, it’s what came next. UNC is ranked 21st in this week’s AP poll, moving up one spot after the win over Virginia. It’s easy to view these things through Carolina blue colored glasses, but man it feels unfair that the Tar Heels are ranked nine spots behind a Florida State team they beat on the road.

UNC and FSU have the same number of losses, and UNC has the edge head-to-head. I’m not sure if UNC should be ranked higher or FSU should be ranked lower, but I don’t see the justification for them being nine spots ahead of the Heels. Carolina does have the ugly loss at home to Virginia Tech in the hurricane, but does that really justify nine spots in the polls? I don’t agree with that.