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UNC vs. Virginia: Winners, Losers, & Honorable Mentions

You knew it wouldn’t be easy for Mack to get his first Charlottesville win.

NCAA Football: North Carolina at Virginia Scott Taetsch-USA TODAY Sports

It’s not like Charlottesville should be that intimidating.

Perhaps one of the oddest things about Mack Brown’s tenures at Carolina is his inability to beat Virginia at Scott Stadium. Virginia hasn’t been a juggernaut of a program, and when the schools played in Chapel Hill it was like a completely different squad would be on the field. As it is, in every even year that Mack Brown had coached, you would see “At Virginia-L” on the schedule, so whether it was by three or thirty, you know Mack Brown feels good driving back down to Chapel Hill finally ending the road losing streak against the Cavs.

Most of us would have preferred it to be by thirty, though.

At some point, all this fire the Tar Heels have been playing with will catch up to them. Hopefully it’ll be after they've clinched the Coastal Division.

With the understanding that Mack Brown is an obvious winner for finally getting win one in Charlottesville, here’s who else is on our list of winners, losers, honorable mentions, and #ACCRefs moment of the week:


Josh Downs-Fifteen catches, 166 yards, one touchdown, and one pest for Virginia to try and cover. It wasn’t just statically his best game this season, it was absolutely his best game. It seemed like something clicked last weekend when the running game disappeared for the Tar Heels and Longo started using Downs’ size and speed for short passes to act like a running game. That was turned up to eleven on Saturday, and on a day when Drake Maye “only” got 293 yards, it shows just how important Downs was that he accounted for over 50% of that total. What’s funny is that up until Saturday, Downs arguably hadn’t had a game that matched his hype, but that wasn’t his doing so much as it was a credit to how Drake Maye spread the ball around. On Saturday, though, he showed that he’ll go to the hot hand when other options aren’t available. On top of this, Downs also managed a return that-should have-ended the game. We’ll get to that, but having Downs back to catch punts has been a great addition to special teams, as he seems to have a great feel for when there’s a lane to go. He won’t take unnecessary risks because of the quality of the offense, which means when he does run-it’s going to be good.

Elijah Green-Finally, a running back. You could argue Green needed to be fed the ball more during the game, but after a few weeks where the Tar Heels struggled to gain traction in the run game with injuries to backs, Green seized control of the lead back job with a tidy 91 yards on 22 carries, which is a 4.1 yards/carry average. He was also responsible for two touchdowns, punching one in on the ground and catching one from Maye. Green’s story is a strong one, if you haven’t listened to his interview in this weekend’s Carolina Insider Podcast, it’s worth the time. You’ll hear of the shock and loss he was handed right before the season started and openly talk about taking care of his mental health, helping others on the team. It’s great seeing him do so well, and with the way he was able to handle the openings the offensive line provided, hopefully it’s the beginning of a great last couple of games for the sophomore.

Drake Maye’s Heisman Invite Chances-Look, let’s go ahead and make this clear right now: I don’t think Maye is going to win this trophy. In the end, to make noise on this vote you have to have games that a majority of voters see, and with a lot of UNC’s games on the ACC Network, whereas other contenders play on Fox/CBS/ESPN the majority of the time, plus the perception of Carolina’s schedule, it’s just easy to write Maye off. That said, Saturday was a really good day for his chances of getting an invitation to New York. It wasn’t a “great” day by his standards, 293 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 74 net rushing yards for a touchdown, but when you consider the defense he did it against, it looks better. Take a peek at what UVA has done defensively against other squads this year:

Yup, Maye had the most passing on the Cavs of any opponent, tied for the most passing scores, and again had a clean game with no turnovers. Again his squad was down, again he ultimately led them to come from behind to take a two possession lead. Arguably the pressure has grown as the winning streak has, and he continues to shine. Add to this that CJ Stroud had a horrid day against an inferior Northwestern team as well as the fact that Bryce Young couldn’t lead Alabama to a win against LSU, and you’re starting to see a scenario where voters will now pay attention to Drake. Maye is about to have three chances to make statements in front of big audiences: next weekend against Wake, Black Friday on ABC against State, and very likely in the ACC Championship game against the best defense he’ll face all season.

Finally, just look at this pointing out the stats Drake is at or near the top in:

He’s going to need to keep it up over the next few weeks, but if he keeps these same chart positions by December 3rd, he can go ahead and book a trip to New York the next weekend.


Orange Bowl Chances-Thanks a bunch, Clemson. The ACC’s only hope for getting someone into the CFP took a walloping against Notre Dame on Saturday Night, pretty much eliminating them from any consideration at this point. With the perception of the ACC and their unusually weak non-conference schedule, even a one-loss Clemson squad wouldn’t get in over some other one-loss B1G/SEC/PAC 12 squads this year. Since the Peach and Fiesta Bowls are the CFP Bowls this year, an ACC team moving there would have opened up the Orange Bowl to the highest ranked CFP ACC team. Now, to make the Orange Bowl Carolina would have to win the ACC Championship game. The good news? It also takes a lot of stress off the last three games. Win one and you’re locked into the game, and you don’t have to worry about your ranking. That also takes some incentive, however small, away from Wake and NC State as they had their eyes on that game as well.

Rush Defense-In a season where quarterback Brennan Armstrong has seen everything go wrong and in a game that saw UVA missing three starting wide receivers and their starting tailback, it felt pretty obvious that UVA would try to run the ball as much as possible. Considering they are about to go against the mesh next weekend, trying to shore up the rush defense would seem like a good idea here, and yet here was Virginia gaining 186 yards on the ground and scoring all four of their touchdowns that way. Four backs, including Armstrong, combined to average 4.8 yards per carry, and consistently they were able to get into the second level. Now, a lot of this can be blamed on the losses sustained by injuries on the DL and the first game where players had to step up, so presumably things can improve, but there weren’t a lot of reasons on Saturday to have any optimism that the offense can afford to have a bad game from here on out. It’s also the thing to be concerned about against any other opponent from here on out — Virginia kept the game close by limiting UNC’s possessions, and basically provided a boiler plate to better teams on how to do it.

Situational Play-calling-The reason that Virginia was able to cover the 7-point spread was something we have seen way too many times this season: the coaching staff (some will say Mack, some will say Longo) getting too cute with a chance to put a team away. Against Duke, a ridiculous reverse call led to a missed field goal and gave the Blue Devils life right when it seemed like they were ready to fold. On Saturday, Josh Downs had a great punt return late that had the Tar Heels start at the UVA 36-yard line with 5:54 left and a 10-point lead. Oh, and UVA was out of timeouts because they used their last one to avoid a delay of game on the punt. Elijah Green had found success running, so what was the first play? A seven yard pass to J.J. Jones that was well defended. The incomplete pass stopped the clock, gave UVA a free 40 seconds, and put Carolina behind the chains. THEN the staff decided to just run with with Green three times straight, when it was pretty obvious that’s what Carolina would aim for. The Tar Heels ultimately melted just 1:30 off the clock, gave UVA the ball right back and forced to play tempo, they marched right on down the field for a score. That this ridiculous situational play hasn’t bitten Carolina yet is a near miracle, but with the quality of opponent ramping up, it needs to be cleaned up.

#ACCRefs Moment of the Week

Nothing too egregious with UNC/UVA on Saturday. There was one moment where the referee called a false start on the entire offensive line instead of just saying “the center” but consider this a great spot to recommend David Hale’s recounting of “Giving him the business.” It’s a great blow-by-blow of one of the most famous ref mic moments in college football.

Honorable Mentions

The UNC secondary allowed Armstrong to have his best day in a while, but let’s give credit to Storm Duck, who was in several notable positive plays, nabbing an interception, breaking up passes, and even coming off a man to help. Is it possible someone there is finally figuring things out and can be a positive...Cedrick Gray had an eye-popping 16 total tackles Saturday, including 10 solo, two for loss, and a sack. He now leads the league in tackles, and has a serious case to be All-ACC which is remarkable for anyone on this defensive corps.

The latest CFP rankings come out Tuesday, and with all the losses around the Tar Heels, expect them to rise when they are revealed. They’ll be the higher ranked squad as they head to Winston-Salem this Saturday Night with the chance to finish 6-0 on the road for the first time in school history. With these two defenses, be ready for a long night.