Countdown to Kickoff: Virginia

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – North Carolina and Virginia will renew the “Oldest Rivalry in the South” in an ACC Coastal Division tilt at Scott Stadium in Charlottesville on Saturday (12:30pm/ACCN).

The Tar Heels (3-4, 1-2 ACC) and Cavaliers (4-3, 2-1 ACC) will play for the 119th time this weekend, marking the nation’s third-most played series. Only Minnesota-Wisconsin (123) and Missouri-Kansas (120) have played more often. UNC leads the all-time series, 61-53-4.

Virginia is a 7.0-point favorite on Saturday.

Since snapping the “Charlottesville Curse” in 2010, UNC has won four straight over the Cavaliers by an average of 25.0 points. The Tar Heels toppled Virginia, 45-14, last season in Chapel Hill.

UNC snapped its own four-game losing streak last weekend with a 48-43 victory over Georgia Tech. It was the Tar Heels’ first win in six weeks.

“I think there’s a little bit more confidence, a little more bounce in their step,” UNC head coach Larry Fedora said. “You always have that after a victory and that’s always a good thing.”

UNC quarterback Marquise Williams played a significant role in UNC’s victory, completing 38-of-47 passes for 390 passing yards, four touchdowns and an interception, while also rushing for 73 yards and a score. The Charlotte, N.C. junior has a school-record 898 total yards of offense over his last two games.

“It's going to be important for us to play the type of defense that - you never can contain a guy - but you need to know where he's at all times because he's a threat even when you have a pass rush to break contain or scramble,” Virginia head coach Mike London said. “But he definitely adds an element to their offense, and he's improved the last couple games, for sure.”

UNC’s offense, which leads the ACC in scoring with 38.7 points per game, will encounter a stiffer challenge than it faced against Georgia Tech’s porous defense (6.4 ypp allowed).

Virginia ranks ninth nationally in rushing defense (100.6 ypg), 23rd in total defense (331.3 ypg) and 39th in scoring defense (22.1). The Cavaliers are also forcing five 3-and-outs per game, good for 15th nationally.

“They’re going to get after us,” Fedora said. “They’re really good on defense. They’re playing with a lot of confidence right now. You’ve got some age on that defense, some experience. They’re really good up front.”

Fedora’s offense is built on tempo, explosive plays and turning short passes into long gains. London takes a different approach, a relatively old-school method designed to complement his defense.

“For us offensively, it's to have the ball, have a time of possession, to continue to make first downs and convert the third-down situations we've been in,” London said. “We've been fairly successful in converting those third downs.”

Virginia ranks 31st nationally in third-down conversions (45.22) and 23rd in time of possession (32:19).

London has leaned on quarterback Matt Johns (82-of-147 passing for 1,012 yards, 8 TD, 5 INT) in recent weeks after starter Greyson Lambert (63-of-97 passing for 564 yards, 2 T, 4 INT) suffered an ankle injury in the loss at BYU. Lambert is healthy, although London played coy this week when asked about Lambert playing on Saturday.

Virginia’s offense is predicated more on its ground game, led by senior running back Kevin Parks (502 yards, 3 TD).

“Really, No. 25 (Parks) is just phenomenal,” UNC associate head coach for defense Vic Koenning said. “We’ve been going against him for years now and we have a lot of respect for him. He does a great job of finding the crease.”

One area of concern for Virginia’s offense is red zone efficiency. The Cavaliers are scoring on 86.2 percent of their trips inside the 20, although their touchdown percentage is relatively low (51.7 percent). UNC, by contrast, is scoring touchdowns at a 78.1 percent clip inside the red zone, which leads the ACC.

A win on Saturday would move UNC back to .500 overall and in conference play, while also securing a second-straight win over a Coastal Division foe.

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