Last week the Tar Heels bounced back with an impressive win over Miami in Hard Rock Stadium. The road trip continues as UNC travels to Virginia to take on the Cavalries. Virginia currently sits at 2-4, with their only two wins coming over Central Michigan and Duke. UNC has won six straight against the Cavaliers by an average margin of 19 points, including last year’s 26-13 contest. This is a new Virginia team led by a new coach in Bronco Mendenhall, so how will the Heels fair, and just who is this new Cavaliers squad?
Virginia ranks 71st in total offense, and 27th in passing offense, averaging 289.2 yards per game. This top-30 ranking is due in large part to junior quarterback Kurt Benkert. Although he is a graduate from East Carolina University, he hasn’t seen a whole lot of action due to a season ending knee injury last year at ECU.
So far in 2016, Benkert is completing 57.2% of his passes for 1,733 yards and 14 touchdowns with seven interceptions. He throws a good deal of short to intermediate balls, which is backed up by the fact that he averages around 7 yards per attempt.
Virginia’s best player to watch is senior running back Taquan Mizzell aka “smoke.” The do-it-all back has 64 rushes for 355 yards and three touchdowns. He also has 24 receptions for 186 yards and one touchdown. He is very capable of making big plays, and is someone the Heels will definitely want to bottle up as much as possible on Saturday.
Surprisingly, UVA is ranked 119th in rushing offense, which is surprising, considering Mizzell is averaging 5.5 yards per carry. You would think Virginia would run the ball with him more than an average of 10.67 times per game. The lack of carries and heavily passing offense should bode well for UNC, given their inability to stop the run much this year.
In terms of defense, Virginia is all over the place. Due to injuries and poor play, their defense seems to be in a constant shuffle of a who’s who in varying positions. As a result, Virginia currently ranks 100th in passing defense, 78th in rushing defense, and 107th in total defense.
The Heels shouldn’t have any trouble passing on Virginia, as four of UVA’s six opponents have been able to throw for over 300 yards on them. This list includes the likes of Richmond, Oregon, Central Michigan, and Duke. As a result, it is safe to say that passing shouldn’t be an issue for a UNC team that is averaging just shy of 300 yards per game.
Despite all of the turmoil on UVA’s defense, there is one thing that does remain constant, and that is the fact that they will blitz, and blitz often. Virginia is infatuated with blitzing more than any team UNC has played so far this season. The offensive line of Carolina has struggled lately and they will be tested heavily Saturday. To combat this, quarterback Mitch Trubisky will need to get off quick, accurate passes.
Aside from picking up the blitz and protecting Mitch Trubisky, there is one thing UNC must do in order to win this game: run the ball. In Virginia’s four losses, teams ran the ball an average of 44 times against the Cavaliers. Whether this was to mix up the run-pass game and keep the blitzing defense off balance remains to be seen, but running the ball seems to be an indicator for success against this UVA defense.
UNC will have the edge this weekend, but make no mistake; this Virginia team is starting to head in the right direction under their new coach. Mendenhall has never had a losing season as a head coach and 60 of his former players have signed NFL contracts. Virginia is on the rise, and those 19-point average wins might not be a consistent theme in the coming years. However, this is 2016 and UNC will have the upper hand come Saturday.