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UNC Football vs. Virginia: Three Things to Watch

Can the Tar Heels snap their losing streak in the South’s Oldest Rivalry?

NCAA Football: Georgia St. at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

After a loss in his first year at the helm of Virginia’s football program, UVA head coach Bronco Mendenhall has squeezed out four straight victories over the North Carolina Tar Heels.

The undefeated Cavaliers are eager for some recognition, and the Tar Heels need to beat their oldest football rival to remain ranked and in contention in the Coastal.

A 59-17 win last week feels good, but issues remain for UNC. Saturday night in Chapel Hill will be the real measuring stick for where Carolina stands three games in this young season.

Here are three factors to watch in primetime this weekend at Kenan Stadium.

Brennan Armstrong

That’s it. That’s the thing to watch. UVA’s quarterback.

Armstrong was the only quarterback in the country that had a higher PFF QB rating than Sam Howell last week.

As a sophomore in the game against UNC last season, Armstrong threw three touchdowns, passing for 208 yards. On the ground, he gained 66 yards on 20 attempts, and punched in one TD.

Armstrong has only 12 rushing attempt through two games this season. However, Armstrong’s prior success on the ground and Carolina’s continued struggles on containing dual-threat quarterbacks should mean more action on the ground this Saturday.

Virginia Tech quarterback Braxton Burmeister averaged nearly five yards a carry in the opening game of the season, going 42 yards on the ground on nine attempts, including a touchdown.

UNC did a better job with Georgia State’s starting quarterback, but the backup quarterback ended up as their leading rusher.

Quarterback containment was an issue throughout the season last year, and it will remain a major focus if or when the defense can stop the dual threat.

Second Half Struggles

In seven straight UNC victories from 2010 to 2016, the average margin of victory was nearly 20 points, even when factoring in the one-point win in 2014.

In UVA’s four victories since 2017, the average margin of victory is less than a touchdown and extra point.

The line sits at -9 for Carolina, but even this single-digit difference seems much too wide for the close games in the Mack Brown 2.0 era.

In 2019, back-to-back TDs put Carolina up by seven in the second quarter. Three straight touchdowns by Virginia pushed them ahead by 14. UNC was able to get it within seven to end the third quarter, but a stalemate in the fourth led to a seven-point defeat.

Last season, the no. 15 Tar Heels were up by seven in the second quarter against the unranked and under .500 Hoos.

Virginia scored four straight touchdowns after that, and despite mighty comeback effort, a nine minute drive by UVA in the fourth quarter that ended in a field goal was the difference in the eventual three-point win by the Cavaliers.

This game will be a fight. The early trend in 2021 for the Tar Heels is improved play in the second half.

Can they finish the job this year against Virginia?

The Rodney Dangerfield Effect

UVA senior defensive lineman Mandy Alonso had this to say about the upcoming game against UNC:

It’s a huge game, big picture, because we’ve heard all the hype that UNC has had from the media and from the top 25 rankings and such. And it’s just things that we need to keep into account that way. Like, once we beat them, then we’ll actually be respectable or talked about on ACC Network or SportsCenter and stuff like.

Virginia is 2-0 (albeit against Illinois and William and Mary) and unranked, while Carolina is 1-1 at no. 21 in the AP Poll. UVA is riding a four-game winning streak over UNC, but they must not be receiving any airtime on Packer & Durham.

Alonso should have said, “I don’t get no respect!

Outside of his complaints about media coverage, Alonso had some valid points that were discussed in the previous section:

I mean, UNC, they always try to come physical. But um, what Mendenhall has been saying the past four years is that it’s our culture versus theirs, like, we’re going go harder, longer each play, and, like, the whole game, than they will. And even if they come out swinging, like, we just have to be able to sustain it. And we know that they can’t sustain it, because the past four years, they haven’t been able to.

Can head coach Mack Brown use this as a motivation tool? Alonso is calling out the Tar Heels, and has the four-game winning streak to back it up.

After Saturday night, can Carolina sustain their play through the final whistle or will Virginia finally get some respect?