Schedule Preview: Virginia

North Carolina returns to its land of anguish once again on Oct. 16, hoping to end "The Curse" and defeat Virginia in Charlottesville for the first time since 1981.

Overview: Despite a pair of ACC Coach of the Year notations on his resume, Al Groh's casket demeanor and 8-16 record over the past two seasons led to his firing. Virginia turned to Mike London, a two-time assistant coach in Charlottesville who delivered a 24-5 record and a FCS championship for Richmond during the past two seasons as the Spiders's head coach. London's hiring was seen as a letdown by a portion of the Virginia fan base, considering names like Tommy Tuberville and Chris Petersen had been tossed around as legitimate possibilities. But the 49-year-old father of seven brings an outgoing personality, a 20-year coaching resume and extensive knowledge of the Virginia recruiting scene to Charlottesville.

There was little doubt that London needed to inject enthusiasm into the fan base with strong staff hires, but offensive coordinator Bill Lazor (Seattle Seahawks QB coach, '08-‘09) and defensive coordinator Jim Reid (Miami Dolphins OLB coach, '08-‘09) are not knock-your-socks-off hires, by any stretch.

Lazor walks into an offensive landscape still burning from the failed Gregg Brandon spread offense movement that took place in '09. The Cavaliers failed to gain 300 yards or more in any ACC contest, averaging 141.5 yards less per game than their opponents. Virginia ranked 118th nationally in total offense (269.6 ypg) and 105th in scoring offense (19. ppg). Add to that an offensive line that surrendered 3.4 sacks per outing (115th) and it's easy to see why Groh scrapped Brandon's offense and returned to more of a pro-style offense during the latter half of the season.

Senior quarterback Marc Verica (2,037 yards, 8 TD, 16 INT in ‘08) returns to the starter's role after watching Jameel Sewell run the show in '09. Virginia's top four rushers are gone, including playmakers Mikell Simpson and Vic Hall. Senior Keith Payne and red-shirt freshman Dominique Wallace are expected to battle for the starting running back spot, while junior Kris Burd (31 catches, 413 yards, TD) and sophomore Tim Smith (15 catches, 204 yards, 2 TD) will serve as Verica's primary receiving options. The line returns three of the offensive unit's six starters, led by senior right guard B.J. Cabbell and junior left tackle Landon Bradley.

If there was one thing Groh was always good at during his time in Charlottesville, it was his team's defense. Running a 3-4 scheme, the Cavaliers ranked 52nd nationally in total defense (358.4 ypg) and 68th in scoring defense (26.3 ppg). Reid welcomes back six starters as London makes the shift from the 3-4 defense back to a more commonplace 4-3 set. Sophomore linebacker Steve Greer (92 tkl, 5.5 TFL) returns as Virginia's leading tackler, while senior cornerback Ras-I Dowling (58 tkl, 3 INT) and junior safety Rodney McLeod (62 tkl) anchor a solid secondary. The defensive line returns two starters in tackles Nick Jenkins (41 tkl) and Matt Conrath (45 tkl, 2 sacks) and starting outside linebacker Cam Johnson (40 tkl) moves into the defensive end spot on the weakside.

Quotable: "Is that last? We've got ‘em exactly where I want ‘em... It is what it is. And obviously, you try to take things like that and use it as motivation, but I don't think I need to use that as a motivating factor for our team. We are what people think we are. All I'm worried about is what we think about ourselves and then how we do on the field. So far, what I think about our players, my thoughts are positive thoughts about where we are and what we're doing now. The season starts here pretty soon, and we'll talk again, I would assume, after the season's over." – London on his team being picked sixth in the Coastal Division in the preseason media poll

Matchup to Watch: While North Carolina will be favored to win this midseason matchup, T.J. Yates will have to improve on his quarterback play against the Cavaliers after completing 20-of-36 passes for 135 yards and two interceptions in last year's humbling 16-3 defeat. The Cavaliers may not field an elite-level defense in '10, but they do have enough talent on the defensive line and in the back seven to pose problems for quarterbacks that are not efficient with the ball. If Virginia's front four is able to contain UNC running backs Shaun Draughn and Ryan Houston, the pressure will be on Yates to avoid the pitfalls that could set up yet another heartbreaker at Scott Stadium.

Remember Me? Marc Verica was never expected to be a Cavalier hero when he assumed the starting quarterback position by default in the third game of the '08 season. Starter Jameel Sewell had been ruled academically ineligible prior to the season, and backup Peter Lalich was dismissed from the team after starting against Southern Cal and Richmond. Four games and a 2-2 record later, Verica was frustrated early and often by a North Carolina defense intent on ending the 27-year-old curse that had plagued the Tar Heels in Charlottesville.

But when Casey Barth connected on a 40-yard field goal to give UNC a 10-3 lead with 2:22 remaining, Verica took advantage of the Tar Heel coaching staff's decision to drop seven and eight defenders into coverage. The Lansdowne, Penn. native completed seven of his eight passes for 80 yards on the game-tying drive, setting the stage for Virginia's stunning overtime victory, 16-13.


2010 Schedule
 
Sept. 4  Richmond
Sept. 11 @ USC
Sept. 18 OPEN DATE
Sept. 25 VMI
Oct. 2   Florida State
Oct. 9   @ Georgia Tech
Oct. 16  North Carolina
Oct. 23  Eastern Michigan
Oct. 30  Miami, Fla. 
Nov. 6   @ Duke
Nov. 13  Maryland
Nov. 20  @ Boston College
Nov. 27  @ Virginia Tech
 

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