The North Carolina Tar Heels and the Virginia Cavaliers will tee it up on Saturday night as they have done every year since 1892, with the exception of World War 1.
Saturday evening’s game, however, has a different feel. A night game in a re-charged Kenan Stadium. A November game with actual stakes.
Yeah, this is going to be fun.
Time: 7:30pm, ACC Network
Line: North Carolina -2.5, O/U 47
I jumped on the horn with Caroline Darney, NCAA Editorial Manager and writer for our sister Virginia site Streaking the Lawn, for her thoughts on the game— definitely give the podcast a listen as she details what to watch for from the Cavaliers on Saturday. We banter about matchups, what the UNC/Duke game may have informed about the Carolina defensive gameplan for Saturday, etc. etc.
What’s at Stake?
Virginia has won two straight in the South’s Oldest Rivalry, with a close 20-14 win in Chapel Hill in 2017 and a 10-pointer last year in Charlottesville. Prior to that, the Heels had won seven straight.
Prior to THAT, Virginia had won eight of nine, so the Tar Heels need to stem the momentum of the Wahoos so as to avoid another long streak in this rivalry.
Oh, and there’s the small matter of the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Coastal Division.
These two teams sit atop the division with its very own “circle of suck” jokes, and the winner will improve to 4-2 and sole possession of first place with an all-important tiebreaker. For Carolina, that means a bye week to prepare for Pitt, where they could make tiebreaker scenarios very difficult for teams not named Virginia Tech with a win. For Virginia, the same, but with a much lighter burden as they host Georgia Tech next week.
This game serves as a de facto elimination game in the division.
UNC Offense vs. UVA Defense
The Heels have struggled to move the ball for large chunks of games, at times, and Virginia is well-equipped both to make that the case AND to really make you pay with time-consuming possessions with their offense.
For the Tar Heels, the key will be staying ahead of the chains and determining what will allow the offense to sustain drives and score points.
After the loss of all-world corner Bryce Hall to a gruesome ankle injury, the strength of the Virginia team became (well, already was) a ridiculous linebacking corps. Zane Zandier, Jordan Mack, and Charles Snowden are very sound tacklers, very good in coverage, and— as we saw last year— Snowden is a force rushing the passer.
Carolina will have to find a way to confuse them or draw them into 1-on-1 situations in the intermediate pass game, or else the offense will again be the feast-or-famine that has a vocal minority of the fanbase questioning Phil Longo’s playcalling.
Ideally, the Heels replicate last week’s success in running for chunks outside the tackles. More likely, its going to be inconsistency mixed with a few big plays.
UVA Offense vs. UNC Defense
Bryce Perkins is not 100%, the Virginia running backs are not explosive, and the offensive line is simply not very good. Oh, and the Heels seem fairly likely to return the secondary trio of Storm Duck and Trey Morrison at corner, and Myles Wolfolk at safety.
Additionally, Carolina showed for the first time in roughly a decade that it could slow a mobile quarterback when it stymied Quentin Harris and the Duke running game last week. Virginia’s offense is designed to do many of the same things.
All of that bodes quite well for the Tar Heels, doesn’t it?
Well, the bad news: Perkins is better as a runner and a passer than Harris, even at 70%. Hasise Dubois, Terrell Jana, and Joe Reed make for a very good receiving corps, one that will test the Tar Heels’ returning and incumbent defensive backs.
Virginia might be our new Georgia Tech. No, they don’t run the option, but they manage to consistently get 5 yards when they need 4, making for a very frustrating, efficient viewing experience.
Quite simply, red zone play. North Carolina is scoring on 91% of its red zone trips, good for 27th in the nation. Virginia? 82% and 75th, though some of their turnovers inside the 20 (see: Miami game) have been backbreaking.
I believe Carolina will hit some chunk plays and get the ball deep into Virginia territory. I’m fairly certain Virginia will have some efficient drives that end up deep in Carolina territory.
Whichever team forces kicks instead of allowing touchdowns wins this game. The margins are that slim.
Another week, another game taking years off of our lives.
I think both teams kick a lot in the red zone.
Carolina 26, Virginia 19