FACTS & STATS: Site: Kenan Stadium (62,980) -- Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Television: ACC Network. Home Record: Virginia 2-5, UNC 2-2. Away Record: Virginia 0-2, UNC 1-3. Neutral Record: Virginia 0-0, UNC 0-0. Conference Record: Virginia 0-5, UNC 2-3. Series Record: UNC leads, 59-54-1.
GAME NOTES: The North Carolina Tar Heels will look to continue their recent resurgence when they match up with the Virginia Cavaliers in an Atlantic Coast Conference duel at Kenan Stadium.
Thanks to a 27-19 triumph over instate rival NC State last weekend, the Tar Heels have posted consecutive victories for the first time this year. The wins have been extremely important for the Tar Heels, who opened the season at 1-5 but now look like a team that could still squeeze into a bowl game. Overall the Tar Heels are 3-5, while they have nearly pulled themselves to the .500 level in ACC play (2-3).
Recent weeks have not been so kind to Virginia. The Cavaliers have not posted a victory since the end of September and after a 59-10 loss to Clemson on Saturday, they have now been on the losing end of each of their last six contests. The loss to Clemson also put and end to the postseason hopes for Virginia, as there are only three games remaining on the schedule for a team that owns a miserable 2-7 overall record, which includes an 0-5 mark against the rest of the ACC.
This has historically been a competitive matchup with UNC holding a slim 59-54-1 edge against Virginia. The Tar Heels have won each of the last three matchups after the Cavaliers won seven of eight from 2002-09.
Just as they are near the bottom of the ACC in terms of wins and losses, the Cavaliers are also in that range when it comes to yards and points. The Cavaliers rank 10th in the league in total offense (370.8 ypg) and second to last in scoring (21.2 ppg).
At the helm is David Watford, who at the very least has shown no fear in throwing early and often. Against Clemson, Watford completed only 16-of-35 pass attempts for 130 yards, but it was the eighth time this season he has had at least 30 pass attempts. Unfortunately Watford hasn't been very effective despite ample opportunities, with just 1,845 yards and seven scores on 45.7 percent passing. Watford has also been intercepted 10 times and sacked on 17 occasions, including eight times in the last three games.
The real star for the unit is running back Kevin Parks, who has proven to be a threat not only on the ground but through the air as well. Parks leads the team in rushing (696 yards, nine TDs) by a wide margin and has been extremely adept at getting into the end zone. Through the air Parks has added 32 receptions for 305 yards and an additional score. He is one of three players on the roster to have at least 30 receptions this year.
Jake McGee is the team leader in receptions with 33 for 277 yards and two touchdowns, despite making only two starts. Tim Smith (23 receptions, 350 yards, TD) is the only receiver with at least 20 catches to be averaging in double figures in terms of receiving yards per game.
On defense Virginia hasn't had much success either. The Cavaliers are better than only two other squads in the ACC in total yards allowed (417.8 ypg), while ranking dead last in the league in scoring defense (32.6 ppg). The team features a pair of 70-tackle defenders in Henry Coley (75, 8.5 TFL) and Daquan Romero (70, 5.5 TFL), while Anthony Harris has 69 stops but more importantly, a league best six interceptions.
The Tar Heels have been utilizing a rather unique offensive system in that they have not relied on just a single quarterback to run the show. Bryn Renner was the top dog but he has given way to Marquise Williams a bit more in recent weeks and will give way to Williams the rest of the way after Against NC State, Renner threw for 124 yards on 15-of-22 passing, while Williams had 92 yards and a touchdown on 8-of-15 passing. Renner however, injured his shoulder against the Wolfpack and will have surgery, effectively ending his season.
North Carolina is scoring 25.2 points per game and averaging around 410 yards of offense each week. Both of those numbers fall right into the middle of the conference rankings.
The skill positions that are likely to make the most impact each week are receivers Eric Ebron and Quinshad Davis as well as running backs A.J. Blue and Romar Morris. Ebron leads the team in receptions, (44) and yards (669) but his three receiving touchdowns are far fewer than the team-best seven that Davis has hauled in. Davis has 32 receptions for 479 yards overall.
Blue (280 yards, TD) and Morris (214 yards, three TDs) are the top rushing options, though neither has been overly productive this season.
For how bad Virginia has been on defense, no team has been as weak in that regard as North Carolina, which is ranked at the bottom of the league in total yards allowed (423 ypg). Kareem Martin has been a force up front for the Tar Heels with 12.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks. Tre Boston (49 tackles, three INTs) has been an important contributor in the secondary.
It looks as if North Carolina has finally figured it out, or at least figured out how to top teams hanging around the bottom of the ACC. Williams will make plays for the offense in Renner's absence and there is enough talent on defense for the Tar Heels to add a victory over Virginia.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: North Carolina 35, Virginia 21
Saturday, November 9, 12:30 p.m. (et)