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UNC vs. UVA: Three Things to Watch

Will the players be put in a position to win?

NCAA Football: North Carolina at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

This Saturday, the North Carolina Tar Heels will participate in the South’s Oldest Rivalry and will face a tough test against a Virginia team that is on a hot streak.

The Cavaliers rebounded after their disappointing loss to NC State with a big upset against Miami and then went on the road to beat Duke.

At this point, who knows what will happen with the Tar Heels. Perhaps Carolina can put all the pieces together for an important Coastal victory.

Defensive Line Stays Hot

Appropriately, the defensive line has been the driving force on D. Their performance last Saturday kept Carolina in the game and they made key plays down the stretch that contributed to both the early second-half comeback and late game lead.

During that 20-point swing in the second half when Carolina held a 27-20 lead over Syracuse, the defensive line came up with big plays in the backfield and added a pass rush that disrupted the Orange’s air attack.

The Tar Heels may have an opportunity to keep things rolling on the d-line versus Virginia. UVA ranks 95th in the nation in sacks allowed at 2.71 per game.

As mentioned yesterday, Malik Carney and the rest of the line will be in the spotlight in Charlottesville. Let’s see if they can make the most of this matchup.

Will the Running Backs Make a Difference?

Antonio Williams was named the ACC Running Back of the Week for his 116 yards rushing yards and touchdown versus Syracuse.

However, that was against the Orange. This week’s orange team is much different on the run defense.

Virginia is ranked 25th in the nation in run defense, allowing just 119.7 yards per game. Against Duke, UVA allowed just 58 yards on the ground on 27 carries.

Even nearly breaking the school record with 52 pass attempts by Nathan Elliott last week, the offense was balanced. The 41 total rushes by the offense made up 43 percent of the offense plays.

This balance will be important even with a tough Virginia run defense. The three-headed monster of Williams, Michael Carter, Jordon Brown may be able to be fresh enough down the stretch to wear down the opposing defense. And of course, an effective run game will set up opportunities down field.

Play Calling in Crucial Moments

It is clear that the effort is there from the players. Now it is time for the play callers to set the team up for success.

My colleague Jake Lawrence in the post-game analysis against Syracuse provided a great breakdown of the controversial wildcat play call and other head scratching situations in that game.

The part that frustrated me the most was the final (and should have been game-winning) drive in regulation. Lawrence wrote:

The final drive in regulation. Fedora essentially admitted after the game that they didn’t really have a plan in place. With the ball at the Syracuse 39 yard line, the Heels had just under a minute to get 9 yards for a manageable field goal attempt. Instead, three incompletions were wrapped around one Nathan Elliott run up the middle (again!). The entire fiasco was a clown show.

Fiasco and clown show are the best adjectives for what occurred last week. If the Tar Heels find themselves on the wrong side of another three point loss, the blame is going directly to those on the sidelines wearing headsets and khakis.