Virginia’s Mike London entered the season on perhaps college football’s hottest seat. Many felt that if the Cavaliers did not pull off an upset over UCLA, Notre Dame or Boise State that London would be gone.
After losing all three of those games, including getting shellacked 56-14 by the Broncos, the biggest upset may be that London is still gainfully employed. But since the loss to Boise there have been little signs of progress. Virginia had the ball in Pittsburgh territory with just under a minute left and a chance to tie the game. And last week, the Cavs beat Syracuse in three overtimes.
This week Virginia heads to Chapel Hill to face the red-hot North Carolina Tar Heels. UNC got off to a bit of a slow start last week against Wake Forest, but once the ball got rolling, it picked up steam in a hurry as the Heels cruised to a 50-14 victory. North Carolina has won five in a row and is 2-0 in the ACC.
Virginia at North Carolina
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: RSN/ESPN3
Spread: North Carolina -17.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Marquise Williams vs. the Virginia Defense
The senior’s play has mirrored that of the entire North Carolina team. He had a rough outing in the season opening loss to South Carolina and he was pulled from the Delaware game after the team’s slow start. But in the two most recent wins over Georgia Tech and Wake, the Charlotte native has been sensational, going a combined 27-of-44 for 416 yards with three touchdowns passing and 207 yards with three scores rushing. Virginia gives up 252 yards passing per game and Eric Dungey of Syracuse gave Virginia problems running the ball last week. It could be a big game for Williams.
2. Virginia Finding Offensive Balance
Running the ball is not Virginia’s strong suit. The Cavaliers rank No. 119 in rushing offense with much of their yardage coming on jet sweeps. What offensive success they’ve had has come from Matt Johns throwing the ball. But Gene Chizik’s Tar Heel defense is one of the best in the country at defending the pass. However, they are 113th in run defense. Virginia needs Taquan Mizzell and Albert Reid to be able to run a little bit and keep the UNC offense on the bench.
3. North Carolina Defensive Pressure
It is one of the most interesting aspects of this North Carolina team. They rank No. 4 in the nation in pass defense, yet they have just four sacks on the year, ranking 127th out of 128 FBS programs. The Heels have gotten the job done without pressure. I think this week that may change. With Virginia being so ground game-challenged, Chizik may want to send guys like Shakeel Rashad and Jeff Schoettmer from the second level. Interestingly, Johns has thrown some beautiful balls this year with guys in his face. Then again, he has eight interceptions so disrupting his timing in any way may lead to turnovers.
North Carolina looks like they have things cranked up. Beating Wake Forest is not a cause for huge celebration, but it was the first time the Demon Deacons had been blown out this season. The only pause for concern is that the next three games following Virginia are against UNC’s chief rivals for the Coastal Division throne and they could be looking ahead. That shouldn’t matter, though. North Carolina’s defense will be a tough nut to crack for UVA’s limited offense and Williams will hurt the Cavs by throwing to Quinshad Davis and Bug Howard as well as by tucking the ball away and running. North Carolina wins big, to the point where it is possible that this is London’s last game with Virginia.
Prediction: North Carolina 38, Virginia 10
— 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.