Here's The Deal … Head coach Mike London's rebuilding plan in Charlottesville reached warp speed last weekend. Virginia, which remains young and inconsistent, played its best game of the season, handing Georgia Tech its first loss. It was a rather impressive showing from the same team that needed overtime to get past Idaho in its last outing.
Not only does the upset bring the Cavaliers one enormous step closer to the postseason, but it'll also add more fuel to the fire that London has already started on the recruiting trail.
NC State enjoyed a much-needed bye last week, using the time to improve its overall health and focus. The Wolfpack has been rather predictable so far this year, losing against decent opponents, and winning when it was heavily favored. In order to rise above mediocrity in 2011, the Pack will need to boost a resume that lists Liberty, South Alabama and Central Michigan as its only victims.
Why NC State Might Win: While Virginia has sputtered on offense this fall, the Wolfpack is coming off its best two games of the year. It produced 73 combined points against Georgia Tech and Central Michigan, getting solid contributions from RB James Washington and QB Mike Glennon. Glennon, under the gun since succeeding Russell Wilson, went 20-of-36 for 244 yards, four touchdown passes and no picks.
In dynamic WR T.J. Graham, he has access to a big-play guy who'll attract the attention of top Cavaliers CB Chase Minnifield. The Cavs have been most vulnerable to north-south running games, which means both Washington and Tony Creecy should expect a steady diet of carries this weekend.
Why Virginia Might Win: Sure, the Wolfpack offense has played better of late, but UVa will present a bigger defensive challenge than either the Yellow Jackets or the Chippewas did. Behind the sticky play of Minnifield, the Cavaliers lead the ACC in pass efficiency D, and just got done quieting Georgia Tech's high-powered option.
The linebacker tandem of LaRoy Reynolds and Steve Greer continues to perform well against the run, preventing yards after contact. On offense, Virginia will continue to lean heavily on a running game that's excelling behind massive RT Morgan Moses and the rest of a veteran line. The Cavs grinded out 272 yards in last week's upset, including 149 from Perry Jones and 86 from Kevin Parks.
What To Watch Out For: Now more than ever, Virginia will need to protect the ball, which has not been a team strength in 2011. Fumbles have been too common, and raw quarterbacks Michael Rocco and David Watford have combined for nine interceptions.
NC State, on the other hand, leads the ACC with 18 takeaways, including a nation's-high six interceptions from CB David Amerson. The Cavaliers can ill-afford a sloppy effort if it hopes to build on last Saturday's signature win.
What Will Happen: Keep it simple. That'll be the mantra in the Virginia locker room prior to kickoff. The Cavaliers will turn to an old-school approach, employing a no-nonsense running and a fundamentally-sound defense. It'll work against a recharged Wolfpack squad that won't go away without a four-quarter fight. Rather than tempt fate, the Cavs will go to the air only when it's absolutely necessary, opting instead to make Perry and Parks the offensive heroes for a second straight game. The pair will collaborate on 40 carries for 180 yards and a pivotal touchdown.
CFN Prediction: Virginia 28 … NC State 20