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North Carolina Tar Heels vs. Virginia Cavaliers Preview and Prediction

Ryan Switzer

Ryan Switzer

Two weeks ago, Virginia Tech went to Chapel Hill and came away with a big victory to grab control of the ACC Coastal Division. But one week later, the Hokies suffered a letdown and lost at Syracuse.

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The Tar Heels must take notice. With the Virginia Tech loss, North Carolina (5-2, 3-1 ACC) has been given new life but now face a situation similar to that which Virginia Tech faced last week. UNC is coming off a big road win at Miami and now go to Virginia (2-4, 1-1) to face the Cavaliers.

Virginia had won two in a row before bowing to Pittsburgh in Charlottesville last Saturday. With a very difficult second half schedule, the Cavaliers are looking for any victory opportunity, something the Heels don’t want to provide.

North Carolina at Virginia

Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 22 at 3 p.m. ET

TV Channel: ACC Network/WatchESPN

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Spread: North Carolina -8.5

Three Things to Watch

1. Quarterback Battle
North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky rebounded from a poor game against Virginia Tech – one played in a monsoon – by throwing for 299 yards, two scores and no picks against Miami. But there’s a very good quarterback on the other side as well. Kurt Benkert transferred to Virginia from East Carolina and has been one of the big surprises in the ACC. In six games, Benkert has thrown for 1,733 yards and 14 touchdowns. This should be an exciting quarterback duel on Saturday.

2. Running Game
North Carolina ranks 13th in the ACC in rushing offense; Virginia is 14th. The Cavaliers are No. 12 in the league against the run; the Tar Heels are dead last (No. 14). So the question is, which anemic running game will have more success against the other squad’s anemic rush defense? The North Carolina duo of Elijah Hood and T.J. Logan has a better history than the Virginia combo of Taquan Mizzell and Albert Reid. The great equalizer could be Virginia’s Micah Kiser, a linebacker who is near the top of the FBS leaders in tackles per game.

3. North Carolina Receivers vs. Virginia Secondary
Led by safety Quin Blanding, the Virginia defensive backfield was considered a strength coming into the season. But the Cavaliers are 114th in the nation in pass defense and that is not good with North Carolina coming to town. Ryan Switzer leads the ACC with 58 receptions and had a very interesting stat line last Saturday – nine catches for 17 yards and a touchdown. The big plays have been made by Bug Howard and Mack Hollins (out for the season with a broken collarbone), with Austin Proehl developing into a dependable target as well. That group will present a lot of problems for Virginia’s defense.

Final Analysis

When comparing the two teams, North Carolina does just about everything better than Virginia. Mitch Trubisky has been a more productive and more efficient quarterback than Kurt Benkert. The Tar Heels run the ball just a little better. The UNC receiving corps is among the best in the country. Defensively, Carolina is more accomplished at everything besides rush defense and even at that, the Heels did a very good job containing Miami’s running backs last week. If North Carolina does not come in overconfident, they should have little trouble on their trip to Charlottesville.

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Prediction: North Carolina 41, Virginia 20

— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.