The 121st edition of the South’s Oldest Rivalry saw Carolina come out on top in the series for the seventh consecutive year and extended the Tar Heels road winning streak to nine games. Here are some of the positive and negative plays that led to the Tar Heels’ victory in Charlottesville:
(0:45) There had been a good amount of talk about who would replace Mack Hollins, and rightfully so. While replacing Hollins is unlikely to be realistic, having other receivers step up in his absence is critical. Jordan Cunningham, the Vanderbilt transfer, hasn’t made a major impact on the 2016 season, but he could prove to be critical heading into the final stretch like he was on this 3rd-and-22.
(0:56) This is a sight that I expected that we’d see more often this year. Offensive line injuries and a concussion have limited Elijah Hood’s visits to pay dirt, but he still is the same back that earned first-team All-ACC honors and rushed for over 1,400 yards in 2015.
(1:47) This has nothing to do with the play. Bug Howard, much like Marquise Williams in the past, paid tribute to his injured teammate and brother Mack Hollins by wearing his number. Howard gave all of us a reminder that football is more than about winning but it’s also about the relationships made through playing the game. Hats off to Bug.
(1:58) Now we can talk about the play. Carolina’s offense was mostly stagnant up unto this point. Larry Fedora decided that it was time to bring out a play he said he had been sitting on for two weeks. T.J. Logan lined up at quarterback with Mitch Trubisky lined up wide to the left. Ryan Switzer comes in motion taking the handoff from Logan. Switzer, running towards Trubisky, laterals the ball allowing Trubisky time to fire down field to a double-covered Bug Howard who makes a tremendous catch. Anything to get the offense going is great, especially when it is one of Fedora’s patented trick plays.
(3:30) I’m not sure enough has been said about Cole Holcomb. Coming into the season I don’t think many expected for Holcolmb to be one of the three starters at linebacker. Nonetheless, the former walk-on from New Smyrna Beach, FL is only second on the team in tackles behind Donnie Miles with 69.
(3:53) Thomas Jackson=my favorite Tar Heel. Also, another former walk-on who has been a fine contributor on this team this season. *Flashback to Florida State.*
(4:18) This is a direct result of the pressure that Mikey Bart, Naz Jones, and the North Carolina defensive line got all day. UVA quarterback Kurt Benkert rushes his delayed handoff earlier than he wanted to because of the presence of Bart in the backfield. This forces the fumble by Taquan Mizell and a Cavalier turnover.
(5:16) Not quite the typical T.J. Logan dive the end zone, but yet another touchdown for the senior continuing a terrific final campaign with the program.
(6:01) Shall we readdress the deep ball threat issue? Austin Proehl is not Mack Hollins when it comes to size and speed but he is the teams most sure-handed receiver and the son of pretty darn good wide receiver in his own right. Proehl brings about everything you would want out of a receiver, outside of natural size, to the table. Next year, I think this guy will show out. This year, I think he’ll allow this receiving corp to be just as potent despite the absence of Hollins.
-Mitch Trubisky continues to shine at quarterback. The junior from Mentor, OH threw for another 310 yards and three touchdowns. Trubisky is completing 71% of his passes on the season and operating the Tar Heel offense with extreme efficiency.
-Bug Howard followed up his career performance at Miami with seven more receptions for 109 yards and a touchdown. Howard has come into his own at the middle part of his senior season.
-Elijah Hood had a strong day on the ground rushing for 107 yards on 16 carries. Hood hasn’t put up the number of 2015, but is still one of the most talented backs in the league and country when healthy.
-I’d need a full article to sing the praises of the defense starting with the Virginia Tech game played through Hurricane Matthew to the past two performances against Miami and Virginia. The defense has held Miami and UVA to a combined 7-34 on third down attempts in the past two weeks. There has also been five total sacks during that time and a secondary allowing less than 200 yards passing per game. All throughout fall camp, Des Lawrence and co. talked about bringing back the ‘Rude Boys’ mentality of the 90’s. Well, after three solid weeks they may be on their way to bringing respect back to that side of the ball.
Overall, another week with few things to nitpick. What did bother me were the two fumbles on the day by T.J. Logan and Ryan Switzer. After a quick nine-yard bust to the UVA 5 yard line, Logan took a pretty good shot on his left side jarring the ball out. The fumble was magnified by the fact that Carolina looked like it was going to score for the first time since the first half in Miami. Also, the Carolina defense has been performing well and any type of pressure that could be put on the Virginia offense would only play into the hands of the Tar Heels.
Switzer’s fumble at the beginning of the second half was a frustrating one as well, with the offense yet to find its rhythm in Charlottesville. One can argue whether his knee was down and if there was enough evidence to overturn the call. I certainly thought that it was a clear fumble.
Though the two fumbles did not end up hurting Carolina on Saturday they should be leery of getting off to slow starts in their final three ACC contests. Georgia Tech, as we all know, can control the time of possession with its triple-option style making it difficult to dig out of a hole. The Heels were able to do that last year in Atlanta, but I wouldn’t count on it happening again, even with this team’s comeback efforts already seen in 2016. Like Virginia, the meetings with Duke and NC State both present the factors of a rivalry game. Were Virginia Tech to fall in ACC play and open the door back for Carolina to get to Orlando, the last thing Fedora would want to see is his team being denied by a rival because of a slow start.
Two more things. Carolina again had two pre-snap penalties, seven penalties in all. Understanding that this is an offensive line that has been decimated with injuries, this is bound to happen. Again, the Tar Heels will need to clean this up before it affects them down the line even if three of the final four games are in Kenan Stadium.
Also, at the 1:26 mark of the highlight video posted above you can view Virginia scoring a touchdown on a fake field goal. The fake came on a non-traditional fake formation, much like the one Carolina uses during extra points. That makes it all the more frustrating because it’s a formation seen on a weekly basis. Although, it is a good sign that UVA felt the need to trick the defense in order to be successful. Still, this can’t happen again.
Fedora stated after the win that his team could have used the bye week a few weeks ago, but it comes at a good time as Carolina awaits to see if Virginia Tech will relinquish its hold of the Coastal and tries to get healthy prior to the arrival of the Yellow Jackets. No film review next week, but we’ll have plenty of things to review during the bye week.