Virginia (7-1) at North Carolina
4:30 PM ESPNU
Why to Watch: The crazy Cavaliers continue to defy all predictions and convention by prolonging their winning ways, now on a seven game winning streak. Virginia doesn’t score many points, but it plays excellent defense and gets timely contributions from players in even the deepest recesses of its roster. Last week’s improbable comeback win over Maryland featured a 90-yard drive that took more than seven minutes and spanned 15 plays. For a team that was expected to be waving good-bye to its coach, UVA has inserted itself into the upper reaches of the ACC race and aims to stay there, despite a remaining schedule that includes games with Wake Forest and Virginia Tech. For now, it’s the Wolfpack, which has struggled mightily in league play, going 0-3, but generated a little momentum last week with a win over East Carolina for its first triumph over a I-A school since early last season.
Why Virginia Might Win: The Cavs have their flaws, but their defense is the fourth best in the ACC and allows its deliberate, sometimes unproductive offense to take its time and not force things that aren’t there. Virginia is particularly difficult to run against, thanks in large part to senior Butkus semifinalist Chris Long, Howie’s son. Considering NC State is having a nightmare of a time running the ball, don’t expect big numbers. The UVA ground game, which last week featured third-stringer Mikell Simpson and a breakout performance, gets an opportunity to go after the nation’s 103rd-best ground D. Virginia may not be a passing juggernaut, but it doesn’t hurt itself with many interceptions. The line keeps QBs Jameel Sewell and Peter Landry clean.
Why North Carolina State Might Win: The Wolfpack may have awoken offensively in the win over ECU. Finally. QB Daniel Evans threw for 335 yards and three scores, while tailback Jamelle Eugene rushed for 63 yards and caught five passes, one week after hitting Florida State for 101 yards. Should those two keep it rolling, North Carolina State’s statistical troubles on offense will be somewhat forgotten. The Wolfpack will try to help the offense stay productive by getting the ball into Darrell Blackman’s hands in the return game and as a receiver. And though the Cavaliers have been scoring just enough to win (winning the last three by a combined four points), their offense staggers, particularly in the passing department. Virginia isn’t going to blow too many people out, so NC State should stay close and, at the very least, be within range for a late upset bid.
Who to Watch: Before last Saturday, Simpson had run the ball twice and caught a total of four passes. In fact, Groh didn’t even have him on the depth chart at the beginning of the season, because he couldn’t classify Simpson as a running back or a receiver. Against Maryland, he was both, rushing for 119 yards and two scores and catching 13 passes for 152 yards. On the Cavs’ final drive, he carried or caught the ball 14 straight plays, including the finale, a one-yard TD run. The sophomore may not have another game like this, because Cedric Peerman could be back this week from an injury, and Keith Payne has been productive. But for one night, Simpson showed what he could do.
What Will Happen: The Cavs may not be an offensive powerhouse, but they’ll be able to solve the shaky NC State defense while slowing down the erratic Pack attack to get by once again.
CFN Prediction: Virginia 24 … NC State 13 ... Line: Virginia -3
Must See Rating: (5 America's Most Smartest Model - 1 Marie Osmond on DTWS) ... 2.5
CFN's Take: NC State vs. Virginia
Virginia (7-1) at North Carolina