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CONFERENCES COACHING CHANGES TRANSACTIONS GAMING MATCHUP CURRENT ODDS
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 can.
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 scores.
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