UVA Football Preview: UNC

Those looking for Part III of our preseason basketball coverage, hold tight. That will be out tomorrow. I decided to get this week’s football preview out as we normally do on Wednesday so that we can close up the week on a more positive note. As for this weekend’s football matchup, while neither team has anything really to play for at this point in time, it is a big tradition week. And the best part of ‘tradition’ and ‘rivalry’ is that is played every year, whether good or bad. This is going to be one of those really bad years.

UNC History

For those of you just jumping on the UVa Bandwagon, (1) why now and (2) this is The South’s Oldest Rivalry, which dates back to 1892 and has been played continuously since 1919. It has really been a series of streaks, with UNC holding the slight 59-54-4 edge over the Cavaliers. Notable games of late include the 2005 loss in Chapel Hill by a score of 7-5 in a sloppy game all around and the 2007 22-20 win where Al Groh’s assistant on the sideline noticed that the call on a UNC field goal was incorrect and did not go through the uprights. The call was challenged and reversed and the Hoos hung on at the end after a failed 2-point conversion.

UNC Now

Fedora had the team heading in the right direction the past 2 seasons even with the bowl ban last year. A 7-6 mark in 2011 was followed by an 8-4 season last year. But somehow things have not worked out for them in 2013. The Tar Heels lost 5 of their first 6 games, including a stunner to ECU 55-31, but have rebounded lately to come into this game 3-6. While technically not out of bowl contention, it would take a stretch win over UVA, at Pitt, ODU, and Duke to sneak into a bowl game.

Offense

Larry Fedora loves to run his up-tempo spread offense, with 3 WRs, 1 TE, and a single back. And we can’t start off a look at the offense without talking about the Bryn Renner injury that will sideline the starting QB for the rest of the season. His backup, and new starter is sophomore Marquise Williams. Extrapolating his numbers this year, Williams (60.6%, 6 TD, 3 INT) is actually a much better runner and slightly more efficient passer than Renner so far. On the receiving end of all of those passes has been one of, if not the, best tight end in the country, Eric Ebron (669, 3 TD). He is quick and huge to bring down and will be tough for the UVA secondary all game. When he does get the ball, look for Quinshad Davis to light up the board (476, 7 TD). A.J. Blue (280, 1 rushing; 140 receiving) is a dual threat out of the back field and loves to work out in space like Bernard did for the Heels last season.

Defense

I can’t really explain their defensive set up, but here is a good shot. It’s a combination of a 3-4, 3-3-5, and a 3-2-6 with an in-between DE/SLB called a ‘bandit’ and a WLB/SS called a ‘ram’. Think of it as a jumbo nickel/dime defense, where they move around players vs. sub out for them. Either way, it is built for speed and will change up looks all the time. This defense allows the linebackers to shine, and they have. WLB Travis Hughes (56 tackles, 5 TFL, 1 sack) and MLB Jeff Schoettmer (65 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 0.5 sack, fumble) are the two leading tacklers on the team. If you are looking for pressure, DE Kareem Martin (55 tackles, 12.5 TFL, 5.5 sacks) and ‘Bandit’ Norkeithus Otis (30 tackles, 6 TFL, 3.5 sacks) are the big guys off the end. 20th year senior Tre Boston (just kidding, but hasn’t he seemed to be around forever?) is the leader in the secondary and has 3 picks on the season.

How Virginia Can Cover

1.       Stop the Scheme. I don’t think there is any magic to the spread offense, but the Hoos just flat out have not been able to stop any team that uses it. And now throw in a running QB, and it could be Oregon Lite.

2.       Turn the Tables. UNC does not have a great defense to talk about either (just 65th in the nation in points allowed) so if Virginia can gain some momentum on offense, they could stick around for a while.

3.       Respect, but not fear. It is a rivalry game and Chapel Hill is not the easiest place to play in the world, but it is not Death Valley. If Virginia, mainly David Watford, starts to look unsure of the offense, they will pick him off all day.

Verdict

Fedora is just one of those coaches that has UVa’s number. Recently, it’s been a lot of coaches, but even when it was Al Groh and Larry was at Southern Miss, it was bad. I don’t see this game being the one that the Hoos wake up and finish the season strong, but they could make it interesting for a half at least. Prediction: Carolina 42, UVa 21.

Hamilton Riley

About Hamilton Riley

Mild mannered contractor by day, sports blogger by insomnia.

UVa Football Preview: UNC

uncNow we’re cooking with bacon.

The ACC was generous to UVa (as usual) and have scheduled a road ACC game in the middle of our non-conference season. And not just against any team, a team that constitutes the other half of The South’s Oldest Rivalry.  The University of Virginia and The University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill have been going at it for 115 years, beginning in 1892 and continuous since 1919.

This year will mark the 116th edition of the yearly matchup and it comes with a few twists. UNC, who was supposed to be in a major state of flux after the firing of Butch Davis just a month before the first game of the season, have started the season off 2-0 with a decisive victory over JMU and a crazy 24-22 win over Rutgers last week.  UVa has had the same luck with their two opponents, again with a big 40-3 win over William & Mary and escaping Indiana with a 34-31 decision.  But the similarities don’t end there.  So let’s get to this weeks breakdown.

Coaching

Gone in the recent player scandal in Chapel Hill is Butch Davis.  In to replace him is Everett Withers. Just like Wilson from Indiana, this is Withers first head coaching job.  He has coached at Texas, Louisville, and the Tennessee Titans, all on the defensive side of the ball.  In 2008, he was hired as the defensive coordinator for UNC where he was until the change late in July.  Regardless of the situations and player removals, he has had a very solid defense these past 3 seasons, and that trend has continued so far in 2011.

Offense

Well what was supposed to be a down year on the offensive side of the ball, has been anything but.  For now, they have found their man under center in Bryn Renner in the Pro Set/Power I offense.  To say he is efficient is an understatement. Understandably, JMU and Rutgers aren’t exactly defensive powerhouses, but when you start the year 42 for 49 is impressive.  Now factor in 4 of those passes being interceptions and he has only miss fired (or dropped by the wide receiver) 3 time.  That is good.  His big target has been Dwight Jones, who has already amassed 251 yards and 3 touchdowns, and can stretch the field on a consistent basis.  Look for other players like fellow WR Erik Highsmith and RB Giovani Bernard to get in the passing game as well.   Running the ball has been very consistent as well, with the afore mentioned Bernard (145 yards, 4 TDs) and Ryan Houston (92 yards, 1 TD). Also look for former walk-on FB Curtis Byrd to make an impact on this game, both in the rushing and passing game. This is a well balances offense, but in the Rutgers game, we saw a bit of an implosion when it comes to interceptions and turnovers.  While it looked like the Tar Heels were going to pull away, they would make a mistake that put points on the board for the Scarlet Knights.  Keep an eye on the vertical passing game for UNC. If they get that going and eliminate the turnovers, it could be a long day for the Hoos.

Defense

It seems that no matter who leaves the team, they always have a senior laden defensive side.  They will run a standard 4-3, exactly like UVa.  The key to this side of the ball begins and ends with the front seven, which could be the toughest that the Hoos will face all year.  This group is lead by DE Quinton Coples and WLB Zach Brown, but statistically look for DE Kareem Martin and MLB Kevin Reddick to make a slew of plays as most teams have been running away from the left side.  The secondary is decent, but Rutgers were able to break it down when the had time to get off a pass. Again throwing away from the left side, FS Matt Merletti and RCB Tre Boston have been getting most of the work. The one big down side about this defense is that they know they are good and will rush the passer a lot, which is something that other teams picked up on and used to their advantage.  Also, they were called for a lot of rushing the passers and personal fouls last game that kept drives alive. The Hoos will definitely be watching a lot of game film on this.

Special Teams

While the return game has been okay, the kicking game is amazing.  Casey Barth, younger brother of former UNC kicker Conner Barth is about to pass his older brother for most made field goals in Tar Heel history.  No doubt his number will be called on multiple occasions, including work over 40 yards.

Virginia Wins If

The Hoos will have to win this game doing something the other two teams could not do: run the ball.  UNC is holding opponents to 30 yards rushing per game. Again the caveat that it was JMU and Rutgers, but Virginia will need to find a way to make UNC play their linebackers up. If they can establish the line of scrimmage where the Tar Heels are thinking run most of the time, they can use the short passing and slant game to chip away big chunks of yards.  This game will need to be low scoring, not as low as the last time UVa was in Chapel Hill (Hoos won 16-3), but definitely in the low 20s. UNC will not allow a shootout, unless they turn the ball over like they did last week, which is unlikely.  If UVa controls the clock and possessions, they have a shot.

Virginia Loses If

Conversely, the key point for UNC is to control the front seven of UVa.  With Renner able to throw with accuracy, making the Hoos sit back in zone rushing 4 could open up the passing game and make a long day for the secondary.  Now while the Hoos were impressive overall defensively against W&M and IU, allowing the UNC offense to get going is a no-no.  The Hoos can also not afford to allow UNC in the backfield by only rushing the D Line. This will cut off the short and intermediately passing game and there goes the bread-and-butter of the offensive play book.

Prediction

In combing through the stats, the one that jumps out at me the most is 3rd down conversions.  Virginia is 13 for 32 for 41% and UNC has allowed only 8 of 30 for 27%, two sets of numbers that has never favored the Hoos in the past. If Virginia can somehow pull this game off, it would be that next huge step that Mike London will take: a road ACC win.  With the other games at Maryland, Miami, and FSU, chances are slim to get one elsewhere.  The Cavs will be fired up early, but I see a second half somewhere between the Indiana game last week and the UNC game last year. Hey, but who knows, maybe a little London magic again. UVa 17, UNC 31.

Hamilton Riley

About Hamilton Riley

Mild mannered contractor by day, sports blogger by insomnia.

Quantcast