* As expected, time-of-possession played a huge role. Virginia and UNC were 11th and 12th in the ACC going into the this contest, and Virginia dominated time-of-possession in this game, almost doubling UNC – 39:14 to 20:46. “We’ve got to do something to flip the time of possession,” head coach Butch Davis remarked afterwards. At one point, UVa had the total offense edge 216 yards to 39.
One reason for the Tar Heels' lack of ability to control the ball is the absence of a significant running game. North Carolina had only 54 yards rushing total. “We just need to be able to stay on our blocks longer,” UNC offensive left tackle Kyle Jolly said.
The second reason North Carolina’s time-of-possession deficit was so large was its inability to stop Cedric Pearman, who torched UNC with 191 yards on 30 carries. Virginia hurt the Tar Heel defense significantly on simple isolation running plays. Virginia also spread the field on the Tar Heels, running out of four-wide receiver sets at times.
* Turnovers were the second biggest factor in this loss, as the Tar Heels fumbled twice and T.J. Yates threw an interception to Chris Long early in the fourth quarter, leading to the fifth field goal of the game by Virginia. For the second consecutive week, the Tar Heels were unable to force any turnovers. “Unfortunately, we are not talented enough at this stage to win games when you lose the turnover margin,” Davis said.
* From their very first drive to go ahead 7-0 and for most of the first half, the Cavalier offensive line was often able to physically whip the Tar Heel defensive line. During the first quarter, Virginia converted three of four third downs. As the game wore on, however, the Tar Heel defensive line was able to put more pressure on the Virginia quarterbacks, registering four sacks of their own. Virginia finished the game converting 11-of-20 third-down attempts.
* UNC’s offense line took a little while to adapt to the UVa scheme. On the Tar Heels’ second possession of the game, the Virginia defense sacked T.J. Yates twice, once by Jeffrey Fitzgerald and once by Chris Long. “We had to get used to their 3-4 defense,” offensive tackle Kyle Jolly said. Except during that early first quarter possession, the UNC offensive line did a good job protecting Yates, though he often eluded, side-stepped, and rolled away from pressure. “He’s not that fast,” wide receiver Brooks Foster said of Yates, “but he has a knack of getting away from the pass rush.”
* UNC was very effective in their two-minute drill to end the first half, particularly when Yates passed out of the shotgun, completing medium and short passes to Nicks, Foster, and Zack Pianalto, capping the 72-yard drive off with a four-yard pass to Hakeem Nicks. UNC had similar success in the no-huddle offense on its final drive.
* The “H-Back” position made its first visible impact, as true freshman Zack Pianalto had five catches for 43 yards. T.J. Yates said it was specifically part of the game plan. Unfortunately, Pianalto also had one the Tar Heel turnovers, a fumble in the fourth quarter.
* Special mention needs to be made of Hakeem Nicks’ performance – seven catches, 113 yards and two TDs. On his 53-yard touchdown run, he dragged the defender the final five yards. “Hakeem Nicks’ one individual catch was probably the best, single individual play of great effort that maybe I’ve seen in 30, 33 years in the game,” Davis said. Nicks’ TD catch was UNC’s fourth play of over 50 yards this season, all on passes from Yates.
* Though none on press row are willing yet to make this comparison publicly (and, yes, this is after three games against unranked opponents), Yates is being quietly compared to another college quarterback who played in the state of North Carolina – Phillip Rivers. Among other individual superlative stats, Yates now has more TD passes as a freshman (9) – after three games – than any UNC QB in history.
Yates also shattered the record for most TD passes after three games ever by a UNC QB, previously held by Chris Keldorf, who had six after three games in 1996. Yates already owns two of the top passing games in UNC history, the 7th and 9th highest total yards passing in a single game. And he’s only played in three games. Though he turned in another great individual performance, Yates’ postgame focus was solely on the outcome and the need for improvement. “We can’t throw interceptions, we can’t have turnovers – we have to be perfect on offense,” Yates said.