The Tar Heels are back in Kenan Stadium this weekend to take on the 1-5 Virginia Cavaliers. The Hoos finally won their first game of the season last weekend against William & Mary thanks their solid offensive performance. Focusing on the losses, the sneaky thing about their season so far is that they barely lost against NC State and Boston College. The counter, of course, is that Tennessee and Maryland dispatched of them easily, so basically the name of the game for UNC is not to play down to their opponent and everything will be fine.
Let’s discuss three keys to this weekend’s rivalry game.
Don’t eat the cheese
On the topic of playing down to opponents, Mack Brown discussed during his weekly press conference a conversation that he had years ago with former New York Giants coach, Bill Parcells. Here is what he said:
“I was at Texas and we’d just beaten Kansas 66 to 14. We were undefeated and we’re second in the country and this was 2005, and we’re getting ready go play (Texas) A&M and they’re 4-7 and we’re going to play at A&M. I get a call from coach (Bill) Parcells, he’s the head coach of the Cowboys and I had played for him at Florida State. He’s a dear friend and I admired him so much. And he didn’t say hello. He said, ‘you’re in trouble man.’ I’m thinking, ‘we just won 66-14, we’re doing good, man.’ And he said ‘you’re in trouble, because you’re sitting around talking about you and USC and national championship game. This is Texas A&M’s bowl game. They’re not going to a bowl game, so their only chance to save their season is beating.’
“He said, ‘you’re like the big rat that’s eating the poisoned cheese.’ He said, ‘you’re going to die now. You’re going to eat the poisoned cheese and you’re going to die.’ I mean, I got scared to death on the phone.”
While we all can agree that some coach speak can be really cringe, Parcells’ point is loud and clear: now that the Heels are 6-0, they are not afforded the luxury to relax against inferior competition. It’s very likely that Virginia will not end the season bowl-eligible, so the best they can do is shock the world by taking down a top-ten Carolina team that has hopes of winning the ACC, and maybe even make the College Football Playoffs. It’s not just the Cavaliers, either — aside from Duke, the Heels will face four teams that would love to stick a “We beat No. 10 Carolina” feather in their cap. The idea of an easy game should be abandoned by everyone in the locker room, because now the battle against bloodthirsty teams, as well as their own complacency, begins.
How often can UNC get to Tony Muskett?
When it comes to getting to the quarterback this season, UNC has definitely done a much better job than in 2022. Granted, the bar was on the ground, but the Heels have generated quite a bit of pressure against every quarterback they’ve faced so far, and we will likely see the same this weekend.
Virginia is currently tied for 116th in the country in sacks allowed according to NCAA.com, easily making them one of the worst in that category. UVA quarterback Tony Muskett was sacked four times against William & Mary, which is somehow an improvement over the six sacks he took against Boston College. The Heels will have a big opportunity to have one of their best defensive games so far, and it wouldn’t be surprising to hear Kaimon Rucker and Cedric Gray’s names called quite a bit. How many sacks can they rack up against the Cavaliers’ struggling offensive line? The sky is the limit.
Another defense with an asterisk
If there is one compliment that can be given to the Cavaliers, it is that their defense is 34th in the country in passing yards allowed. Much like Miami’s run defense, however, they have had the benefit of playing some pretty mediocre passing offenses so far. The toughest opponent they’ve played this season has been Tennessee, who threw for just 212 yards despite scoring 49 points. Do the Heels still have to respect them and what they can do? Yes. Do I think Drake Maye could tear them apart? Also yes.
Should the Cavaliers keep Drake Maye & Co. in check, Chip Lindsey should have no problem using Omarion Hampton early and often. He is fresh off of a monster game against Miami, and finished with 197 yards on the ground and a touchdown. Again, it’s hard to imagine that Virginia’s defense is good enough to deal with the likes of Drake Maye, but it never hurts to have an insurance policy in your backfield. Realistically, though, I wouldn’t be surprised if everybody eats this game. Let’s just hope it’s not poisoned cheese that they’re eating.