When Casey Barth booted a 40-yard field goal to give the Tar Heels a 10-3 lead with 2:22 remaining, North Carolina fans thought they may just escape Charlottesville with their first victory since 1981. But UNC utilized a prevent-style defense that dropped seven and eight defenders into coverage with minimal pass rush, allowing Virginia to drive 82 yards in nine plays for the tying score with 47 seconds left in regulation.
After watching a similar strategy yield a combined 112 yards in the final minutes of the Miami and Notre Dame victories, the obvious question is whether or not the Tar Heels will shy away from that approach in the future.
“It’s unbelievable how 20/20 the hindsight is the day after,” Davis said. “You would have loved to have gotten sacks [and] you would have liked to have gotten an interception. The unfortunate thing is that we did some things yesterday that we hadn’t done all year long.
“And you’ve heard us kind of half-way jokingly talk about not biting the cheese – about not jumping underneath routes, about not jumping shallow routes and making sure that you keep the ball in front of you. And unfortunately we didn’t do it in the two-minute drill. The same things that we did in that drive were the same things that had allowed them to have very, very little success in the first 57 minutes of the ball game.”
The defense gave up just 168 yards in those first 57 minutes, but the Cavaliers racked up 107 on their final drive and in overtime.
“The defense’s mindset was that they felt like it may turn out to be a defensive game that they may have to win, and unfortunately, we didn’t win the game,” Davis said.
And to add more fuel to the fire, North Carolina’s offense was content to kneel and run out the final 47 seconds on the game clock from its own 20-yard line, when 50 yards would have given Barth a chance at a game-winning field goal.
“We had no timeouts and unfortunately, I did a poor job and we did a poor job of not saving [any],” Davis said. “We would have loved to have had 47 seconds and two timeouts or three timeouts. At the point, just looking at the game overall, we felt like our defense for a huge lion’s share of the ball game had pretty much controlled the game and had a pretty good handle, and offensively, we had been able to run the [ball].”
Davis indicated that this game was lost where so many victories have been won this year – turnover margin.
“The biggest deciding factor, and we’ve said this for all of the games since Week 1, is turnovers,” Davis said. “Turning the ball over three times and not getting any turnovers, and we had opportunities to do that.”
On the positive side of things, North Carolina dominated the line of scrimmage for the majority of the contest, allowing Cedric Peerman to gain just 44 yards on 17 carries after churning out 283 yards in his previous two outings.
“The run defense against Cedric Peerman we thought was a major, major key going into the ball game,” Davis said. “We did a reasonably good job, and held them to 58 yards rushing for the day.”
The Tar Heels, on the other hand, rushed for 166 yards on 48 carries, led by Shaun Draughn (138 yards on 30 carries) and Ryan Houston (32 yards on 11 carries). Davis also praised his interior linemen for their performance, highlighting Lowell Dyer, Aaron Stahl and Alan Pelc’s play.
“When the running game has struggled in the past, it’s not any one individual,” Davis said. “It’s a collective effort… So whenever we have any kind of success, it’s more than just one person. We’ve got some guys that are getting a little better grip and a little better handle on some things.”
As hard as this one will be to put to rest, the Tar Heels must turn their attention to No. 23 Boston College on Saturday.