While few of Virginia’s season statistics are inspiring – the Cavs rank 80th or worse in 13 statistical categories – the team has been at its best when finding success on the ground behind veteran tailback Kevin Parks, quarterback David Watford and newcomer Taquan Mizzell.
Virginia churned out 37 rushing yards on nine carries on its opening drive before punting away. It would take the Cavaliers another nine possessions and 35:59 of game time to match that rushing total. By that point, late in the third quarter, North Carolina held a 35-7 lead.
Gap integrity was a consistent theme during postgame interviews for the Tar Heels.
“We’ve got guys that are taking care of their responsibility and not trying to do something that they’re not supposed to do,” head coach Larry Fedora said. “If I’ve got the B-gap, I don’t need to help over here in the A-gap. Just take care of your job. We’re doing a much better job of that, therefore you see a lot less explosive plays.”
Senior defensive end Kareem Martin indicated that Virginia’s initial success was due to Parks’s ability to cut back on the zone read play.
“Control the line of scrimmage and have the linebackers fill the holes,” Martin said in describing what worked for UNC up front. “I think we struggled in that on the first drive, but we came to the sideline and fixed it and we didn’t have a problem with it for the rest of the game.”
UNC was able to get pressure along the defensive line - Martin (3 tkl, 2 QBH) and Bandit Norkeithus Otis (4 tkl, 3 TFL, 2 sacks) were particularly disruptive – and therefore didn’t have to call many blitzes, according to middle linebacker Jeff Schoettmer.
Combine the ability of the front four to stonewall UVa’s offensive line with a streamlined defensive game plan designed to simplify and the final result can be effective, as Saturday’s win proved.
“Everyone was just doing their assignment,” Schoettmer said. “Everyone has a gap. It goes back to us making less mistakes as a defense. We’ll see on film tomorrow, but not many mistakes were made - critical mistakes – like we had earlier in the year. We’re coming together as a defense and we have confidence.”
Even with players in the proper positions earlier in the season, however, UNC was losing far too many 1-on-1 battles at the point of attack due to poor tackling. Schoettmer indicated the players that were missing tackles earlier in the season went to work in the film room and improved their technique through repetition.
Those efforts are beginning to translate to the field on Saturdays.
The Cavaliers finished with 112 rushing yards on 40 carries. Kevin Parks broke the triple-digit plateau with 100 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries, although the junior ran for 69 yards on 19 carries (3.6 yards per carry) after the opening possession.
UVa's 112 rushing yards is the second-fewest UNC has allowed this season. The Tar Heels held Virginia Tech to 48 yards on Oct. 5.