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UNC Football: The problem with running quarterbacks

What does UNC hate more than anything? Hint, Virginia has a ton of them.

Illinois v Virginia Photo by Ryan M. Kelly/Getty Images

UNC football has a long, painful history matching up against running quarterbacks. Tar Heel defenses have had tremendous difficulty corralling, controlling, and disrupting mobile quarterbacks, especially during the Mack 2.0 era.

This season is no different. Despite hopes of an improved and deeper defensive line, the Heels have been tagged twice already. Virginia Tech quarterback Braxton Burmeister was the Hokies’ second-leading rusher on Opening Night, rushing nine times for 42 yards and Tech’s opening touchdown. Carolina largely held Georgia State’s starting quarterback Cornelious Brown in check (nine rushes, 17 yards, one touchdown) but in the second half, got gashed by back-up Darren Grainger (five rushes, 56 yards, and a near-TD rush of 36 yards). Now comes Virginia.

Last season’s Halloween night horror show in Charlottesville was a barnburner. Cavaliers quarterbacks Brennan Armstrong and Keytaon Thompson combined for 30 carries and 109 yards, with a touchdown each. Armstrong gave a glimpse of his passing prowess that night as well, throwing for three touchdowns. Then came this:

Armstrong was on another level against Illinois, overtaking even Sam Howell in PFF’s Week 2 quarterback ratings. He threw for 405 yards and five touchdowns. Looking at the video below, it’s easy to see how. Virginia’s offensive line kept the Illini pass rush at bay, allowing Armstrong to stand like a statue, surveying downfield with impunity:

This poses a conundrum for Carolina’s defense. If the defensive line is too aggressive and takes direct lines to the quarterback, leaving space to run into, Armstrong and Thompson can run until they pull a hamstring. But if the Heels don’t get into the backfield and show pressure, Armstrong is proving that he can hit throws over the top to put up points through the air. UNC is going to need their best defensive effort of the season to stop Virginia.

That assignment is made more difficult if Ja’Qurious Conley’s hand is still in a club, as it was in the second half of the Georgia State game. Also, DaeDae Hollins is now out for the season, and Storm Duck still has not suited up this season.

Virginia poses a serious threat to Carolina this Saturday night. With Brennan Armstrong at the helm of a potent Hoos offense and equally dangerous on his feet or with his arm, Jay Bateman will have to quickly determine threats and hold up one lantern if by land, two if by sea, I mean air.

Regardless of how UNC’s defense fares, Sam Howell and the offense cannot have empty possessions and need to put up a ton of points just to keep pace. Virginia’s ability to run threatens to choke off the Tar Heels, just like Virginia Tech did two weeks ago.

UNC opened as a 10-point favorite over UVa, but I think that line is wildly optimistic. Hopefully the defense can contain Virginia’s quarterback threat enough to have at least one extra point by the end of regulation and end their four-game winning streak in the South’s Oldest Rivalry.