What UVA Football fans need to know about North Carolina
Preseason Top 10, prohibitive ACC Coastal favorite, and it all came crashing down on the season’s opening Friday night.
The final in Blacksburg was 17-10, but Tech owned Carolina in that one, scoring on its first possession, fumbling at the 10 on its second, scoring on its third, missing a short field goal that would have made it a three-score game.
Credit to the Tar Heels for making it interesting late, but the Hokies were in control from start to finish.
Preseason ACC Player of the Year Sam Howell finished 17-of-32 for 208 yards and three INTs, including one on UNC’s final play from scrimmage, near midfield, to put a capper on things.
The O line, considered a strength coming into the season, allowed 16 pressures on 44 Howell dropbacks, including six sacks – and the pressure seemed to rattle Howell even when he wasn’t under pressure, if that makes sense.
Carolina direly misses wideout Dyami Brown and tailbacks Michael Carter and Javonte Williams, lost to the NFL.
UNC coach Mack Brown, wise old codger that he is, used the media to try to get the point across to his team that the reason they’ve lost four straight to Virginia is that they’re not tough enough.
The Heels, eight-point favorites, desperately need a win Saturday night in Kenan Stadium. A loss would drop UNC to 0-2 in the ACC, with losses to Tech and UVA, and all but eliminate Carolina from contention for an ACC Championship Game spot.
Players to watch
- TB Ty Chandler: The Tennessee grad transfer is the top threat out of the backfield (62.0 yards per game, 5.0 yards per carry). Howell actually leads the team in rushing, but 63 of his 139 net yards came on a scramble in the 59-17 win over Georgia State last weekend. What that seems to imply is: the ground game hasn’t gotten going yet.
- WRs Josh Downs and Emery Simmons: Downs has 16 catches on 22 targets for a team-best 196 yards through two games. Downs is pretty much a possession guy – only one of the targets is 20+ yards downfield, with 14 coming behind the line of scrimmage or less than nine yards downfield. Simmons is the deep threat – 11 of his 13 targets are 10+ yards from the line of scrimmage, and he has four catches on those passes, for 112 yards and a TD.
- TEs Garrett Walston, Kamari Morales and Bryson Nesbit: Don’t get used much – a total of 10 targets through two games, roughly one of every six pass attempts. Howell doesn’t go to his tailbacks much, either – Chandler and backup D.J. Jones have a total of four targets.
- S Ja’Qurious Conley: Pro Football Focus gives UNC’s leading tackler (6.0 per game) a 71.4 season grade.
The game will air live on ACC Network on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. Information on providers of the ACC Network can be found on GetACCN.com. The game is also available to ACC Network subscribers via the ESPN App and ESPN.com. The contest can be heard on Virginia Sports Radio Networks around the commonwealth and live on VirginiaSports.com. A list of stations can be found here. Fans can follow along via live stats and the Virginia Mobile app and get in-game updates on the team’s official twitter account, @UVAFootball.
- Vegas: UNC -8
- ESPN FPI: UNC 71.2 percent win probability
This is Virginia’s game to win. If the schedule had this one even a week later, maybe Brown and his staff have time to fix the issues with the O line that doomed them in the loss to the Hokies. Howell didn’t handle the pressure well, and was only average at best against the Tech secondary with a clean pocket. That doesn’t bode well against an improved UVA secondary. And the Virginia offense is rolling, giving Brennan Armstrong time, and the transfer portal gave him a new weapon in tight end Jelani Woods, whose presence opens things up outside for Dontayvion Wicks and Ra’Shaun Henry. Should be an electric atmosphere at night in Kenan, but Virginia is the better team. Final: Virginia 34, North Carolina 17.
Story by Chris Graham