UVa is coming off a 26-21 upset of No. 4 Florida State last weekend, after which three players were ACC Players of the Week – quarterback Marques Hagans, linebacker Kai Parham and kicker Connor Hughes.
The Tar Heels hold a 55-50-4 advantage in the all-time series that dates back through two centuries. However, Virginia has won the last three meetings and has a 16-5-1 record over the last 22 contests with UNC.
QUOTABLE – Al Groh
“We’re very impressed with UNC’s defensive line, particularly the interior. Their offensive line and their wide receivers are, certainly, a strength. Their return game is amongst the more dangerous that we’ve played against this year. Matt Baker has done, I think, a remarkable job. It’s caused me to think, if there’s any comparison there, I hope we can be as fortunate [with a new QB] next year.”
On turning the season around:
“What we talked about last week is that we didn’t really care what anybody said about us, and we don’t really care this week. We just know what we have to do this week to keep it going. What we care about is winning and losing and staying together as a team and trying to play the kind of sound, solid, tough, aggressive ball that we like to think is our trademark. The season was pretty early still last week at that stage. It’s really still pretty early; we’re only at the halfway mark. And, I think at that stage it’s too early to get hyped up about if you’ve got a great team, and it’s a little premature to be running around like Chicken Little saying, ‘The sky is falling.’”
Groh calls the quarterback position the most important on the field because it significantly impacts every play. Marques Hagans (#18, 5-10, 209, Sr.) is coming off his best career performance with 306 yards passing and two touchdowns against the Seminoles, mostly while scrambling to stay out of reach of the FSU defenders. Perhaps the team’s most valuable player, Hagans has not only served as the signal caller, but he’s also been a wide receiver, running back and punt returner throughout his career. He has the ability to win games with his hands and his feet. For the season, Hagans is 111-of-178 passing for 1,342 yards and 10 touchdowns. He’s thrown six interceptions and been sacked 19 times. Backup Christian Olsen (#11, 6-3, 216, Jr.) has made just one appearance this season, completing 2-of-4 attempts for 40 yards.
“I’ve never seen a quarterback beat us with a one-man show,” said FSU coach Bobby Bowden. “The last time that happened was Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl (1980). J.C. Watts did it for about 30 minutes; this guy did it the whole game.”
Wali Lundy (#33, 5-10, 210, Sr.) entered the season ranked seventh in school history with 2,619 yards rushing and as one of only 16 players in ACC history with three 800-yard seasons. This year looked as if it would be another big one for Lundy as he gained 28 yards in just three carries midway through the first quarter in the opener. However, he then suffered a sprained foot that has continued to hamper him through the first half of the season. He scored his first and only touchdown of the season against FSU on a 16-yard pass reception. He is still looking to break out this season with 131 yards on 37 carries. Michael Johnson (#2, 5-9, 199, Jr.) is one of the fastest players on the team, but hasn’t had many opportunities to prove it until this season, having played behind Lundy and Alvin Pearman most of his career. He came into the season bigger than he has ever been, but despite scoring a touchdown in the season opener, he also fumbled twice. He bounced back with a team-high 51 yards in the loss to Boston College. His 5.34-yards-per-carry average is fifth among ACC players with at least 40 carries. Following the spring, the UVa coaches had high expectations for Cedric Peerman (#37, 5-10, 198, Fr.), who leads all ACC rookies with 108.5 all purpose yards per game. He is the team’s second leading rusher. The top fullbacks are Tom Santi (#86, 6-5, 238, So.), who is more like a tight end and has 169 yards receiving on 11 catches, and Jason Snelling (#38, 5-11, 233, Jr.), who has tallied 154 all purpose yards.
Deyon Williams (#81, 6-3, 185, Jr.) has the size and speed to stretch the field. In his first two years he caught 27 passes and averaged 14.2 yards per reception. He is tied for second in the conference behind Georgia Tech’s Calvin Johnson with an average of 4.83 catches per game. His 29 receptions for 368 yards and three touchdowns are tops on the team. Fontel Mines (#84, 6-4, 217, Jr.) is third with 11 catches for 170 yards and a touchdown. Ottowa Anderson (#83, 6-0, 200, Sr.) has caught eight passes and is averaging 19.9 yards per reception. Theirrien Davis (#82, 5-11, 187, So.), who rounds out the two-deep at wideout has just one reception for 15 yards.
Jonathan Stupar (#88, 6-3, 245, So.) is the team’s second leading receiver behind Williams with 12 catches for 165 yards and a touchdown. Backup John Phillips (#85, 6-6, 241, Fr.) has also caught a touchdown pass.
Even with the graduation of All-American guard Elton Brown and All-ACC center Zac Yarbrough, Virginia’s offensive line is still formidable with three seniors among the returning starters. It’s a relatively tall unit, which may provide one explanation as to why Hagans prefers to spend so much time outside of the pocket. Outland and Lombardi Award nominee D’Brickashaw Ferguson (#66, 6-5, 289, Sr.) protects Hagans’ blindside at left tackle. He returned to the starting lineup versus FSU after missing the two previous games with a knee injury. Ferguson has started every game of his career (45). Center Brian Barthelmes (#62, 6-6, 288, Sr.), who started all 12 games at left guard last year, is one of the team’s most versatile linemen. Mammoth right guard Marshal Ausberry (#78, 6-5, 309, So.) served as Brown’s top understudy last season. Branden Albert (#71, 6-7, 306, Fr.) mans the other guard position. Right tackle Brad Butler (#69, 6-8, 292, Sr.) had started 31 consecutive games before being suspended by the team for a chop block in the loss to Boston College. Butler hurled himself into the back of the knees of Eagles defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka after the whistle had blown. BC defensive tackle Al Washington jumped on Butler and was ejected for retaliating.
“Brad crossed the line and for that he must take accountability,” Groh said in a statement released by the school after the game. “We have talked in detail and he has assured me that his actions on the play at issue were a result of over-aggressiveness and over-exuberance to block a challenging opponent and without malice.”
End Brennan Schmidt (#96, 6-3, 289, Sr.), a team captain, leads the defense this season after starting in all 45 games of his career. He’s the ACC’s most prolific tackler this season among defensive linemen, averaging five stops per game. On the other end, Chris Long (#91, 6-4, 278, So.) was one of six defensive players who made the first start of his career in the opener versus Western Michigan. A talented prospect, Long was one of 10 true freshmen to see action last fall. He is averaging 3.7 stops per game and ranked third on the team with five tackles for loss. Nose tackle Ron Darden (#64, 6-4, 328, Jr.) moved over from the offensive line during the offseason.
Clint Sintim (#51, 6-3, 242, Fr.), ranked fourth in the ACC among rookies with 4.8 tackles per game, has had at least one tackle for loss in every game except one. The other inside backer is Kai Parham (#44, 6-3, 253, Jr.), who spearheaded the Cavaliers’ defensive effort last week with a game-high nine tackles. Called a “hammer” by Groh, Parham’s seven sacks are tied for the ACC lead and fifth-best in the nation. Inside linebacker Ahmad Brooks (#34, 6-4, 259, Jr.), a preseason All-America candidate, saw his first action in more than 10 months against Maryland earlier this month. He underwent knee surgery in March Brooks missed training camp while rehabbing and didn’t return to practice until the season had already started. Against the Terps he finished with two tackles and a quarterback pressure before leaving with an ankle injury. Outside linebacker Mark Miller (#47, 6-0, 224, Sr.) played primarily on special teams prior to this season.
Al Golden took over as defensive backs coach this season and has a talented secondary to oversee. Cornerback Marcus Hamilton (#3, 5-11, 187, Jr.) led the team with four interceptions last season, his first as a starter. He also made a career-high 54 tackles, while breaking up a team-leading five passes. This season he has been outstanding against the pass and the run, and shares the ACC lead with four interceptions and is second among the league’s corners with an average of 6-3 tackles per game. The other corner is Mike Brown (#28, 5-9, 173, Fr.), who has nine solo tackles on the year. Tony Franklin (#23, 5-10, 180, Jr.), a three-year starter at cornerback, has moved over to safety. Safety Nate Lyles (#30, 6-0, 197, So.) is a hard hitter who was the only true freshman on defense to play in every game last season.
“I think we have some good continuity in our secondary,” Groh said. “We have two young corners who’ve been through it now."
Preseason All-America place-kicker Connor Hughes (#5-10, 172, Sr.) leads all active players with 58 career field goals and is fifth with 291 points. He has been successful on 82.8 percent of his career field goal attempts. Punter Chris Gould (#9, 6-1, 216, So.) is averaging 39.7 yards per kick and with six downed inside the 20. Peerman is fourth in the ACC in kickoff returns, averaging 28.2 yards per return. In Virginia’s 38-7 win over Duke, Johnson returned a kickoff 68 yards but didn’t score.