North Carolina (6-4) at Virginia (4-6)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Thursday, November 15, 7:30 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Scott Stadium (61,500) -- Charlottesville, Virginia. Television: ESPN. Home Record: UNC 5-1, Virginia 3-3. Away Record: UNC 1-3, Virginia 1-3. Neutral Record: UNC 0-0, Virginia 0-0. Conference Record: UNC 3-3, Virginia 2-4 Series Record: UNC leads 58-54-4.
GAME NOTES: Virginia kept its postseason hopes alive in thrilling fashion last weekend, a result the Cavaliers will try to duplicate this Saturday when the North Carolina Tar Heels land in Charlottesville for an Atlantic Coast Conference bout.
The Tar Heels have alternated wins and losses over their last four games, including their first home loss of the season this past Saturday against Georgia Tech. In a game the featured no shortage of offense the Tar Heels wound up on the wrong side of a 68-50 decision. North Carolina had no answer for Georgia Tech's running game, surrendering 380 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground. UNC is now 6-4 overall, while splitting its six conference games.
On the other side Virginia is still fighting for its postseason life and staved off elimination from bowl contention with a thrilling 41-40 win at home over Miami-Florida. With six seconds remaining, Michael Rocco connected with tight end Jake McGee in the back of the end zone to give the Cavaliers a much needed victory.
In a rivalry that began back in 1892, these two squads have been relatively even. North Carolina leads the all-time series 58-54-4 and has won back-to- back games against Virginia, including a 28-17 triumph last season. Virginia had won seven of the previous eight before the Tar Heels' current streak.
As its effort against Georgia Tech may indicate, the North Carolina has had no problem on offense this season. The Tar Heels are the third ranked offense in terms of scoring (40.5 ppg) and total yards (488.7 pg) in the ACC this season.
Much of the offensive success stems from the playmaking ability of dynamic running back Giovani Bernard. Bernard has been one of the most explosive offensive players in the conference and perhaps the country this season. He has amassed 1,008 rushing yards on 142 carries, for a stellar 7.1 yards per carry averaged. He is also second on the team in receiving with 38 receptions for 411 yards. On top of that, his 15 total touchdowns are almost more than twice that of the next highest scoring player. That player is A.J. Blue, who also happens to be a running back. Blue has rushed for 393 yards this season and has scored all eight of his touchdowns on the ground.
Ignoring the passing game would be a mistake. Bryn Renner has enjoyed a very successful season in which he has thrown for 2,736 yards and 20 touchdowns to only seven interceptions. His quarterback efficiency rating (144.23) is the third best mark in the conference, behind Tajh Boyd of Clemson and E.J. Manuel of Florida State.
Other than Bernard, the top threats on the team are Erik Highsmith (46 receptions, 511 yards, 2 TDs), Eric Ebron (37 receptions, 568 yards, 3 TDs) and Quinshad Davis (36 receptions, 463 yards, 3 TDs).
While the offense has had no shortage of success, the Tar Heels' defensive effort has been rather mundane. North Carolina is right in the middle of conference in scoring defense (25.7 ppg) as well as total yards allowed (392.1 ypg). Where the Tar Heels have been able to shine on defense is in creating negative plays. North Carolina has racked up 79 tackles for loss this season, tops in the ACC.
Kevin Reddick and Kareem Martin are tied for the team lead in the category with 14 tackles for loss each. Reddick is also the team's leading tackler (72) and pass rusher with 5.5 sacks. Sylvester Williams has racked up five sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss as well. Tim Scott and Jabari Price have been strong in the secondary. Price has 71 tackles and nine passes defended, while Scott has 38 tackles, four interceptions and 11 passes defended.
From week to week the quarterback situation has been in constant flux for Virginia. Both Rocco and Phillip Sims have played in just about every game this season, especially since week four against TCU. Against Miami it was Rocco's turn to shine, as he completed 29-of-37 passes for 300 yards and four touchdowns in making the start. On the season Rocco has thrown for more touchdowns (12), yards (1,585) and for a better completion percentage (61.5) but has been intercepted twice as much as Sims. Shared snaps will likely be in order this weekend.
In the backfield the tandem of Kevin Parks and Perry Jones has been the main source of production. Parks leads the team in rushing yards (660) and rushing touchdowns (five). Jones has been more of a dynamic offensive weapon this season with his ability to run (395 yards) as well as contribute in the passing game (41 receptions, 341 yards).
Virginia has been one of the better teams in the conference when it comes to yards allowed this season. The Cavaliers are third in the conference in total defense (349.1 ypg). Unfortunately that has not translated on the scoreboard with Virginia a distant eighth in the ACC in scoring defense (29.3 ppg). Much of that comes from the fact that Virginia has struggled to hold onto the ball this season, as the Cavaliers have the worst turnover margin in the ACC (-12).
On defense, tackle machine Steve Greer is the player to watch. Greer has already accumulated 95 tackles this season, 7.5 of which went for loss. He trails only Nick Clancy of Boston College in total tackles in the ACC. Chris Brathwaite (34 tackles, 7.0 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks) leads the team in sacks, although that has not been a strength for the Cavaliers.
While North Carolina has more than likely secured a postseason berth, Virginia will still have to play with urgency to keep its season going beyond the end of November. With that type of desperation, plus North Carolina's failures on the road this season (1-3), the Cavaliers may still be fighting for the bowl season after this weekend.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Virginia 27, North Carolina 26
11/14 10:38:43 ET