(18) North Carolina (5-1) at Virginia (3-3)|
Saturday, October 18th, 3:30 p.m. (et)
The Sports Network
By Scott Haynes, Senior College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: Two of the hottest teams in the ACC meet up in Charlottesville
this weekend, as the resurgent Virginia Cavaliers play host to the 18th-ranked
North Carolina Tar Heels from Scott Stadium.
Al Groh's Cavaliers dropped three of their first four games to begin the 2008
season, but the team has evened its record with a pair of impressive wins of
late, shutting out Maryland on October 4th, 31-0 and following that up with a
35-20 victory over East Carolina last weekend.
Butch Davis' Tar Heels are certainly heading in the right direction, having
won five of their first six games in 2008. The team's 5-1 start is its best
since 1997. UNC has taken a break from ACC action of late, posting impressive
wins over formerly nationally-ranked UConn (38-12) and a come-from-behind win
over Notre Dame (29-24).
This is the 113th meeting between these two teams and is recognized as the
South's oldest rivalry. The Tar Heels hold a 57-51-4 advantage in the all-time
series, but have not won a game in Charlottesville since 1981, a string of 13
straight defeats. The Cavaliers have won five of the last six meetings and
eight of the last 10 overall.
The Tar Heels were able to post a feverish second half comeback and beat the
Fighting Irish last weekend, but the win came at a hefty price, as the team's
most explosive player, WR Brandon Tate, suffered a knee injury and is now lost
for the season. It remains to be seen just how UNC will assuage the loss if it
One thing is for sure, QB Cameron Sexton will be a big part of it for now.
Sexton, who scored the go-ahead TD on a QB keeper late against ND, has taken
over for the injured T.J. Yates and should be able to build off last week's
win. On the season, Sexton has completed 56.7 percent of his tosses, for 560
yards with three TDs. Wide receiver Hakeem Nicks (33 receptions, for 553
yards, four TDs) also had a huge game against the Irish and will be called
upon to carry even more of the workload with Tate's absence.
The ground game for UNC averages a modest 120.8 ypg, but Shaun Draughn (4.9
ypc, two TDs) has the ability to move the chains when called upon.
The Tar Heels have been able to hang tough this year, even when facing a
deficit. Sexton believes this team elevates its play when facing a challenge.
"I think this team, that's what were all about. We know how to play in these
types of situations. We talk about situational football. We showed that we may
bend a little, but we're not going to break. Our defense knows how to bow
their neck and push guys and not let guys score. As an offense we know how to
get down the field and score."
The Tar Heel defense has been one of the best units in the nation this year
and that certainly continued against Notre Dame, as the team forced five
turnovers, including an interception return for a TD to begin the second half,
starting the UNC rally.
A big play unit, North Carolina leads the nation in interceptions (14) and
turnover margin (+1.83). Safety Trimane Goddard leads the team with four picks
and is tied for the national lead at 0.67 per game. Eight different players
have at least one INT and the team as a whole has returned three of them for
Linebackers Mark Paschal and Quan Sturdivant have been all over the field for
the Tar Heels, pacing the team with 52 and 51 total tackles, respectively.
Paschal also has 5.5 TFLs, two sacks, two interceptions and one forced fumble.
Sturdivant has two picks to his credit and one sack.
The Virginia offense has struggled for the most part this season, but the
emergence of a real rushing attack over the last two games has provided the
kind of balance that can move the chains and keep opposing defenses guessing.
The primary reason for the team's offensive resurgence has been tailback
Cedric Peerman, who has eclipsed the century mark in the last two games and
now leads the team 379 yards, on an impressive 7.2 yards per carry. Peerman
erupted for a season-high 173 yards against East Carolina, with TD runs of 79
and 60 yards.
Joining the effort in the backfield is Mikell Simpson (37.2 ypg). The pair
have combined for seven rushing scores to date and have made QB Marc Verica's
job a bit easier under center. Verica is completing a healthy 65.9 percent of
his passes on the year, but has just three TDs and an alarming seven INTs.
Kevin Ogletree is the top option in the vertical game and the receiver leads
the team with 31 receptions, for 383 yards and three TDs.
The offensive line is starting to gel and that is another reason for this
team's success of late, something that has not gone unnoticed by Groh.
"We talk about the growth of the offensive line. With two freshmen there is a
lot of growth available at that position. Clearly those kids are different
than they were six weeks ago."
The Virginia defense has also elevated its play of late, but the numbers on
the year are still well below what is expected in Charlottesville. The Cavs
are allowing 24.7 ppg, on 350.5 yards of total offense.
The linebacking corps is extremely active, with Antonio Appleby (46 tackles,
5.0 TFLs, one sack), Jon Copper (44 tackles, one sack) and Clint Sintim (37
tackles, 9.0 TFLs, 6.0 sacks) flying all over the field.
The secondary is highlighted by safety Byron Glaspy (29 tackles) and CBs Vic
Hall (27 tackles, one INT and one fumble recovery) and Ras-I Dowling (17
tackles, five PBUs and three INTs).
The Tar Heels will surely miss Tate being on the field, but there is enough
talent remaining to finally get past Virginia in Charlottesville.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: North Carolina 24, Virginia 17
10/15 10:32:13 ET