You wouldn’t have been surprised to see UNC 4-1 and UVA 1-5 heading into their ACC matchup in Chapel Hill.
But such is the case, with the ‘Hoos (4-1, 1-0 ACC) coming in on a three-game winning streak, including a 28-21 win over Duke in their ACC opener this past weekend, while the Tar Heels (1-5, 0-3 ACC) have lost three in a row, most recently a 33-10 home loss to Notre Dame.
For North Carolina, the issues have been somewhat familiar on the defensive side, where the Heels are giving up 470.2 yards and 33 points per game, both dead last in the ACC. The run defense has been particularly galling, allowing 241.7 yards a game and 5.2 yards per carry, both also dead last in the conference.
The surprise has been the ongoing struggle to find an offensive identity. Chazz Surratt and Brandon Harris have completed 57.9 percent of their passes, with seven TDs and six interceptions.
The run game hasn’t gotten going to this point, either, averaging 133 yards per game and 3.9 yards a carry, down nearly a yard per tote from what UNC was able to gain on the ground in 2016.
Coach Larry Fedora still has weapons at his disposal. Tailback Jordon Brown has 296 yards on the ground and averages 4.6 yards per carry, and is Carolina’s top receiver (20 catches through six games), while backfield-mate Michael Carter has five touchdowns on the ground, averages 4.8 yards a carry and has gained 231 yards rushing.
The deep threats are Austin Proehl (16 catches, 16.9 yards per catch), Anthony Ratliff-Williams (16 catches, 16.0 yards per catch) and Jordan Cunningham (18 catches, 12.8 yards per catch), all of whom have 40-plus-yard catches this season.
Placekicker Freeman Jones has made all 18 of his extra-point attempts, but is just 4-of-7 on field-goal tries, with a long of 39.
Virginia gutted out the win over Duke last week, working around two interceptions from quarterback Kurt Benkert, including a first quarter pick-six, winning with a solid effort from the defense, which surrendered just 295 yards to the Blue Devils.
The Cavs D is fifth in the ACC in yards per game (326.0) and fourth in yards per play (4.8), a dramatic improvement over 2016, when Virginia opponents gained 446 yards per game and 4.7 yards per carry on the ground.
Also showing dramatic improvement in 2017 is Benkert, whose 64.1 percent completion rate is eight points higher than 2016. Benkert has thrown for 13 TDs with just three INTs, after having 11 passes picked off a year ago.
Tailback Jordan Ellis has run for 408 yards and five TDs, averaging 4.0 yards per carry. The wideout trio of Andre Levrone (15 catches, 25.1 yards per catch), Olamide Zaccheaus (38 catches, 9.2 yards per catch) and Doni Dowling (24 catches, 13.6 yards per catch) is among the best in the ACC.
Placekicker A.J. Mejia is 21-of-21 on extra points, but has attempted just three field goals, making two, the long being from 28 yards.
Preview by Chris Graham
The book, with additional reporting by Zach Pereles, Scott Ratcliffe and Scott German, will take you from the aftermath of the stunning first-round loss to UMBC in 2018, and how coach Tony Bennett and his team used that loss as the source of strength, through to the ACC regular-season championship, the run to the Final Four, and the thrilling overtime win over Texas Tech to win the 2019 national title, the first in school history.