The latest chapter of the South’s Oldest Rivalry has some extra meaning as the Virginia football team travels to Chapel Hill, North Carolina to take on the Tar Heels. Both teams come into the matchup with 3-2 conference records and are tied atop of the ACC Coastal standings. With four teams in the Coastal having two losses in the conference, this is a must-win game for both sides.
The Hoos fell on the road last Saturday to the Louisville Cardinals 28-21 in a game that was all too familiar for the Wahoo Nation. Virginia’s road struggles continued as they gave up 21 unanswered second-half points to fall behind 28-14 with under three minutes to play in the game. The Cavaliers were delivered a blow in the middle of the third quarter when they lost defensive captain Jordan Mack to a targeting call that took the air right out of the defense. The Hoos do deserve some credit for never giving up the fight as they scored a touchdown with 21 seconds to play to make it 28-21 before recovering an onside kick to give themselves one more chance. Their last-second comeback efforts ended as a Bryce Perkins’ hail mary from the Louisville 40-yard line was knocked to the ground in the end zone as the clock expired.
While the Cavaliers were coming up short against the Cardinals, UNC came out on top in a 20-17 thriller at home against the Duke Blue Devils. After taking a 20-17 lead late in the fourth quarter, the Tar Heels surrendered a Blue Devil drive that had them with 1st-and-goal at the UNC two-yard line with 18 seconds to play in the game. Duke then ran a trick play where the running back tried to throw a jump pass that was intercepted by UNC linebacker Chazz Surratt at the goal line to seal the Tar Heel victory.
Both teams will have to put last week’s games behind them and focus on the big-time matchup at hand. Coming into the game, the Cavaliers are riding a two-game winning streak over the Tar Heels, but UNC had won the previous seven contests between the two teams. The winner of this meeting keeps their ACC Coastal dreams alive.
1. Can the Hoos end these road woes?
This was the first question on last week’s preview, and it will continue to be asked until Virginia can win a game on the road. After last week’s loss at Louisville, the Cavaliers are now 5-15 on the road in the Bronco Mendenhall era and 1-3 this season.
These struggles away from Charlottesville are what kept the Hoos from having an even more special season last year and could potentially do the same this year as it drowns their Coastal division title goals. The answer to this question has to be yes if Virginia wants to live up to the high expectations they set for themselves going into the season.
2. Will Virginia not only establish the running game, but also utilize it throughout the game?
Establishing the running game has been a point of focus in recent games for the Hoos. While they accomplished this in the first half as starting running back Wayne Taulapapa had eight carries for 50 yards, the Cavaliers went away from him in the second half. He only had three carries in the second half after this solid production to start the game. To play a complete game to beat the Tar Heels, the Hoos cannot afford to abandon Taulapapa and the running game like this again.
3. Can the Cavaliers play clean football?
Heading into the Louisville game, the Hoos had been on a bit of a roll in terms of minimizing penalties. In their previous two games against Duke and Miami, they totaled only 5 penalties for 50 yards. This positive trend of smart football came to a grinding halt last Saturday as Virginia was penalized eight times for 70 yards against the Cardinals.
The Cavaliers cannot afford to play another sloppy game like this against the Tar Heels. It should help that UNC’s opponents are averaging only just over 38 penalty yards per game, which is the lowest in the ACC.
Three Opponents to Watch
1. Sam Howell, Quarterback, #7
The 6’2”, 225-pound true freshman has been dominant in his first season of college football. Howell leads all ACC quarterbacks in passing yards and touchdowns this season throwing for 2,119 yards and 22 touchdowns. The Cavalier secondary has stepped up the last two weeks, and they will be called into action once again as they try to slow down Howell.
2. Dazz Newsome, Wide Receiver, #5
The 5’11”, 190-pound junior leads the Tar Heels in all three major receiving categories this season with 42 catches for 582 yards and six touchdowns. Newsome is a Virginia native having grown up in Hampton, so there may be a little extra on the line for him Saturday. Look for Howell to target him throughout the game as he has done all season long and once again, test this Virginia secondary.
3. Chazz Surratt, Linebacker, #21
The 6’3”, 230-pound junior has been wreaking havoc this year for this UNC defense. He leads them in tackles and sacks with 75 tackles and five sacks. Those 75 tackles place him second in the ACC in total tackles this season. Surratt will be constantly attacking this Cavalier offensive line as he looks to contain Bryce Perkins and the run game.
Three Hoos to Watch
1. Bryce Perkins, Quarterback, #3
Wahoo Nation held their breath as Perkins exited the Louisville game in the first quarter with a knee injury. Perkins returned the following drive, but he never really looked the same after this play. It is no secret that Cavalier offense goes as Perkins does, so not having a fully healthy Perkins could spell trouble for Virginia. Look for the offense to run less plays that involve Perkins taking unnecessary hits as they try to keep him healthy.
2. Nick Jackson, Linebacker, #42
As mentioned earlier, defensive captain and linebacker Jordan Mack was ejected in the second half of the game for targeting. As a result, he will miss the first half of the UNC game. The Virginia defense asked the true freshman Jackson step up in his place against the Cardinals and will be doing the same against the Tar Heels. The linebacker position has been an area of strength for the Hoos all season long and Mack has led the way in this success, so asking a true freshman to replace him is quite a tall task. UNC may try to take advantage of this and call plays that attack Jackson’s area.
3. Nash Griffin, Punter, #81
The junior punter had large shoes to fill coming into this season after Lester Coleman graduated last year. It appears Griffin has settled into his role after an impressive performance against Louisville last week. In that game, he had a 78-yard punt and four punts downed inside of the Louisville 20-yard line. In what is expected to be a close game, flipping the field and winning the field position battle will be crucial for the Hoos, and Griffin will be an integral role in doing so.
The Cavaliers were victorious in 2017 in their last visit to Chapel Hill as they took down the Tar Heels 20-14.