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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.