Time: 1:35 p.m.
Site: Kenan Stadium (60,000)
Records: Virginia (3-1, 2-0 ACC); UNC (0-4, 0-2 ACC)
Series: UNC leads 56-47-4
Rankings: Neither team is ranked
Coaches: Virginia – Al Groh, 3rd season, 17-13-0 .567; UNC – John Bunting, 3rd season, 11-18-0 .379
Last Meeting: Virginia 37, UNC 27; Oct, 19, 2002, Charlottesville, Va.
Line: Virginia by 7
Carolina currently owns the toughest schedule in the nation according to the Sagarin Rankings. The Tar Heels are searching for their first home win since defeating Southern Methodist 19-10 back on Dec. 1, 2001. Virginia has won two straight, including last week's 27-24 come from behind win over Wake Forest.
UNC is ranked 12th in the nation in passing offense this week, while the Cavaliers are ranked 12th in pass defense efficiency. Either something has to give, or they cancel each other out. One way or another, the Carolina defense must play better (yawn) for anything else to make a difference.
Darian Durant is already Carolina's career leader in touchdowns (40) and pass completions (375), and he will likely surpass another school mark against Virginia. He needs 99 passing yards to supplant Ronald Curry as the Tar Heels' all-time career leader. Durant is currently ranked 19th in the country in total offense with 271.5 yards per game. Matt Schaub set or tied as many as 10 school records last season en route to being named ACC Player of the Year. He was the only quarterback in the league to throw at least one touchdown pass in every game last season. Both will leave a legacy at their respective schools. While Schaub has enjoyed more success than Durant lately concerning wins and losses, neither takes a backseat to anyone in the conference other than Philip Rivers.
The Tar Heels have simply not been able to get its four-headed tailback rotation in gear this season, as evidenced by the fact that Durant is the team's leading rusher. UNC has fought from behind throughout most of its games, which has not allowed many opportunities to establish the running game. Individually, UVA's Wali Lundy leads the ACC in rushing with a 95.2 yards per game average (4.6 yards per carry). Alvin Pearman is back from injury to add depth to the position. As a team, the Cavs are ranked second in the league in rushing offense with 172.5 yards per game.
Jarwarski Pollock leads the ACC and is ranked third nationally with 8.5 pass receptions per game. He also ranks second in the league with 91.8 receiving yards per game. The freshman trio of Mike Mason, Jesse Holley and Adarius Bowman are quickly making their mark as three of the Tar Heels' biggest playmakers. Both teams possess excellent tight ends. Bobby Blizzard is not yet 100 percent, while Heath Miller is the Cavs' leading receiver. Virginia has yet to overcome the loss of two of its top wide-outs from last season, and therefore lacks depth.
The Tar Heels offensive front is experienced, but lately has been unable to open holes for its backs with regularity or provide substantial protection for its quarterback – one of the reasons Durant has felt pressure to run as often has he has. While blocking for the league's leading rusher, Virginia has also allowed the fewest sacks in the ACC – just three in four games – while Carolina has allowed seven. If Durant were not as mobile as he is, then Carolina might have given up even more.
The Tar Heels will start two true freshmen at linebacker this week in hopes of adding some desperately needed athleticism. On the interior line, Isaiah Thomas is beginning to demonstrate why he was one most highly touted prospects of 2003. But Carolina's endplay has been horrendous, and the linebackers have struggled nearly as much. Virginia defensive ends Chris Canty and Brennan Schmidt are tied for the team lead in sacks. Canty also has three tackles for loss and seven quarterback pressures to his credit. Outside linebacker Darryl Blackstock was named National Defensive Freshman of the Year by two separate publications in 2002. The Cavs are middle of the road as far as conference defensive categories go, but UNC remains virtually last in all of them.
A season-ending injury to Cedrick Holt leaves the Tar Heels without their best cornerback. While Dexter Reid is the league's leading tackler, 12.8 per game represents he has too much responsibility in this category. As a whole, the Carolina secondary has been stretched too thin in most cases in order to make up for the shortcomings of the rest of the defense. Virginia's Almondo Curry has led all ACC cornerbacks in sacks the last two seasons and has six career interceptions. In fact, he has intercepted a pass on the first play of the second half of the last two games. Safety Jermaine Hardy is averaging a team-high 8.8 tackles per game.
UNC allowed a punt block for a touchdown from its own end zone last week, but other than that the Tar Heels continue to demonstrate considerable improvement on special teams. The coverage units, made up mostly of freshmen, have been outstanding over the last two games. Michael Waddell leads the ACC in punt return (14.6 yards per game) and kickoff return (35.3 yards per game) average; nationally, he ranks 17th and third, respectively. Virginia has yet to distinguish itself in any special teams' category, other than kicking. Connor Hughes is second in the league in scoring with seven field goals and 12 extra points.
Prediction: Virginia 34, UNC 30