Kevin Parks posted 98 yards rushing vs. the Tar Heels.
For the first time in 30 years, the Virginia football team knows what it feels like to lose in back-to-back years against North Carolina.
While Saturday’s contest in Chapel Hill did not have the lopsided score or the streak-crashing disappointment of last season’s 44-10 defeat, the first loss of 2011 stung for different the reasons. After all, the Cavaliers outgained the hosts 468-401 in the contest, but lost the scoreboard 28-17. That gave the Tar Heels their first wins in consecutive years in the series since 1981-82.
“We’re going to continue to coach these guys. I love these players right here. We’re going to be a better football team because of this game. We’re going to have to be a better football team,” Virginia coach Mike London said on the Virginia Sports Radio Network broadcast. “The taste of victory is a whole lot better than what we just experienced and I’m going to drive that point home.”
UVa came out of the gates with a commitment to the running game and it paid off against a solid defense. The Hoos recorded 170 yards rushing on 34 carries, an average of 5.0 yards per attempt. Perry Jones , Kevin Parks , and Clifton Richardson all got involved in the effort as the offensive line and edge blocking showed the visitors could move the ball on the ground throughout the day. North Carolina entered the game ranked third nationally against the run after allowing just 30.0 yards per game over the first two weeks of the season.
Parks led the way in his first game against a school from his home state after rushing for a North Carolina career record 10,895 yards at West Rowan High School. He finished with 98 yards on 14 carries and added a 15-yard reception for good measure; he had a career-long 34-yard carry in the game. Jones (39) and Richardson (26) helped the Hoos crack the century mark in the ground game.
The Cavaliers had success through the air too with 298 yards passing, a number hurt by some dropped passes along the way. Starting QB Michael Rocco completed 22 of 37 passes for 287 yards, while David Watford hit 1 of 4 passes for 11 yards. Rocco had a touchdown pass on a well-timed 3rd-and-1 play-action call that freed up senior Max Milien on the sidelines for a 41-yard touchdown reception. Rocco, who also added a touchdown run after being flushed from the pocket, did throw two late interceptions and had a fumbled exchange on a snap from Anthony Mihota .
Kris Burd led the air assault with 110 receiving yards on 7 catches, the fifth 100-yard game of his career. He’s tied with Patrick Jeffers on the Cavs’ all-time list of 100-yard receiving games. Burd has 1,43 receiving yards, now ninth place all-time at UVa. He’s also in 10th place for career receptions with 109, just 5 catches short of 8th place (Herman Moore and Wali Lundy). Matt Snyder added 72 yards on 5 grabs, while Milien (41) and Tim Smith (32) each had long receptions in the contest.
While the yards piled up, the points did not. Virginia only visited the red zone once (and capitalized when Rocco scrambled for his rushing touchdown) despite surpassing 450 yards of offense. The aforementioned fumble killed one drive, while penalties and dropped passes knocked others out of whack, including Watford’s drive that ended with a failed fourth-down conversion. A first-quarter drive stalled out and resulted in a long field goal attempt, which Robert Randolph pushed wide right from 45 yards. That’s Randolph’s only miss in 10 tries this season; he made his second try against UNC from 38 yards away.
“We got down there for the first field goal, it was wide right. It was well within Robert’s range. Then later on we flipped the field, at about the same yard line and had an opportunity for a fourth down play that we thought we could make. Robert could have kicked it again but we thought we had a fourth down play based on what they showed us and we thought we could execute and make it. We decided to try to go for it and try to get some points,” London said. “We also had a fumble down there so you can’t do things like that when you’re playing a good football team. And they’re a good football team. It went back and forth, if you look at the statistics there wasn’t one side dominating the other side. But they won where it matters and that’s on the scoreboard. They scored more points and had more opportunities to put it in the end zone than we did. My hat goes off to them, they played hard and they played good.”
While some positive things carried through and showed up on the stat sheet, several discouraging things made an appearance too. Many of them trace back to 2010. The Hoos had continued issues with pocket containment on the pass rush, not enough pressure on the quarterback, too many penalties, some deep pass coverage hiccups, and dropped passes to name a few.
UVa’s defense struggled to stop the run against UNC.
The biggest issue, however, proved to be run defense and inconsistent tackling, a pair of major problems in 2010 that took center stage once again in this loss at North Carolina. The Tar Heels piled up 222 rushing yards on 41 carries with several big plays up the gut and to the outside. Giovani Bernard posted 102 yards on 12 carries, an average of 8.5 yards per carry. A.J. blue added 40 yards, while Erik Highsmith (19), Ryan Houston (17), Sean Tapley (17), Bryn Renner (14), and Jheranie Boyd (14) all had at least 14 yards on the ground too. Everyone but Houston, who scored two touchdowns, had at least one run of 13 yards.
At times, it looked reminiscent to several games last fall when UVa allowed 203.7 rushing yards per game, a number that ranked 106th out of 120 teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision. In fact with the big rushing day, UNC became the seventh team in 15 games to rush for 200 yards or more against the 4-3 defense of London and defensive coordinator Jim Reid. Carolina is the first team to break that barrier in 2011 after Florida State (256), Georgia Tech (477), Eastern Michigan (290), Duke (230), Boston College (218), and Virginia Tech (201) ran wild last season.
The rushing offense didn’t do all the damage. The Tar Heels also produced 179 yards passing, including a deep completion on an end-around option pass from Reggie Wilkins. Renner completed 15 of 21 passes for 143 yards and 2 TDs.
Even when the Hoos had things covered up, inconsistent tackling ruined the effort. Long story short, the defense still has work to do.
“We rushed for 222 yards today. Anytime you can rush for 222 yards is a pretty good day for us. Gio Bernard is the first freshman back since ’07 to rush for 100 yards. So that’s a pretty nice stat,” UNC coach Everett Withers said. “I thought our offensive line did a great job today. The run game is about building it up and getting better with the run game. The early part of the game sometimes doesn’t look so pretty. Then you hit a run, then you get two or three [yards]. Then you hit another run. That’s the run game sometimes. People think you always got to be getting 50, you’ve got to be getting 20. It’s not like that. I thought our offensive line stayed on task, the running game stayed on task and we were able to run for 222 today.”