Offensive line – Despite allowing three sacks, the offensive line had its best game this season. The Tar Heels chewed up 271 yards on 56 attempts averaging just under five yards per carry. The OL was so effective that the Heels passed only 21 times, which allowed offensive coordinator Gary Tranquill to grind it out and win the time of possession battle (by nearly four minutes). Kudos to OL coach Robbie Caldwell for the unit's development.
Andre Williams – Williams gained 147 yards on 28 carries and scored a touchdown. He continues to improve and combines power with an ability to turn the corner well. He runs with great balance, squares his shoulders upfield and punishes defenders. The sophomore had runs of 13, 38, 7, 9, 8, 7, 8 and 18 yards.
Receivers – One of the reasons Williams and the Heels are getting more long runs is because the receivers are blocking well down field. This bunch has become more physical with each successive week and in the process is getting open earlier in their routes. Sam Aiken and Bosley Allen each had three catches—Aiken with an acrobatic 66-yard TD reception from Ronald Curry. Kory Bailey hauled in two tosses but both were key and showed his ability to snag the difficult passes. Chesley Borders had a 53-yard reception and once again displayed his wonderful athletic ability. Finally, this group is living up to its preseason billing.
QB's – Ronald Curry was awarded the game ball from last week's win over East Carolina because he became the school's all-time leader in total yards. He passed Jason Stanicek (1991-94) who was on hand to present Curry the ball, a pre-game honor that generated a loud roar of approval from UNC's fans. Curry was sharp before leaving the game with an injury to his Achilles late in the first half by hitting on three of five passes for 81 yards. He also ran the ball seven times for 55 yards and looked as athletic and confident as he has in the past year. Darian Durant was excellent once again hitting on 10 of 16 passes for 162 yards. But this was Curry's day, despite the injury, as the Heels defeated the Cavs, where Curry originally committed to play, for the first time since 1997.
Balance (3rd down conversions) – The Heels has 234 yards rushing and 243 passing as the offense continues to gain more and more balance. Carolina was also 9-16 on third down conversions, also an area that has improved in recent weeks.
Jeff Reed – Carolina's "Big Toe" connected on field goals of 30, 22 and 38 yards, and did so with plenty of room to spare. Reed has one of the strongest legs UNC has had in years and is a major asset.
Winning – The Heels have now won four straight games and are doing so on both sides of the ball. UNC had 477 total yards on a day the defense was a bit flat, proving they are learning how to win. Efforts like this are the bricks of a foundation of future success. UNC is now 4-3 overall and 3-1 in the ACC.
Fans – The fans were tremendous. They have definitely bought into John Bunting's intense style and approach as they too watch and cheer with more energy than in previous seasons. The fans are making noise at the right times and actually stood often throughout the game. It's about time but is certainly a positive sign for the program's health.
Defense – This wasn't UNC's best day on defense. The unit appeared flat from the outset although there were a smattering of impressive moments. The Wahoos had 405 yards and too often moved the ball with surprising ease. The D did force UVa into five possessions without a first down, but gave up too many long plays.
Secondary - UVa QB Matt Schaub, who isn't one of the better signal callers in the ACC, threw for 334 yards while completing 33 of 55 passes. There is no excuse for UNC's defense to allow a mediocre QB to have a field day. The Cavaliers' Billy McMullen hauled in 11 passes for 122 yards, mostly with UNC's Michael Waddell defending him. UVa threw at Waddell all afternoon and although the Carolina junior made some nice plays, he committed some basic mistakes (turning the wrong way) and was overmatched by McMullen. Schaub hit on seven passes of 15 or more yards and 14 of 10 or more.
Dexter Reid – Reid snagged just the second interception for UNC's secondary and returned it 67 yards for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter to give the Heels a 30-17 lead. Although the DBs had a tough day with Virginia's short passing game and tackling wide, Reid's INT and subsequent score more than made up for the difficulties.
Pass rush – The Tar Heels had just two sacks and didn't get to Schaub much until the second half. In fact, they should have hit him more in the second as well. UVa's quick passes didn't give the line much time to get to the QB but the line still seemed a bit slow. The run defense, especially in the first half, allowed too many big holes, much like in the ECU game. But they did settle down.
Late game fumbles and D – In the last three games the Heels have fumbled late in the fourth quarter while driving for what appeared to be game-sealing scores. However, after the fumbles the defense allowed the opposition to march down the field, twice for scores (ECU & UVa) and once inside the 30 (N.C. State), and each contest wasn't decided until the final seconds. The Heels are supposed to be in superior physical condition and yet have not shown an ability to stop their opponents in all three cases. Considering UNC had a time of possession advantage in each game they should have performed better. The Heels also allowed UVa to go 43 yards in 52 seconds and kick a field goal to close out the first half.
Band – Carolina has an excellent band for basketball but not football. They rarely play unless UNC scores or during timeouts, and then they usually play the same songs they do during TO's in hoops games. The band should take a cue from SEC bands and play after a good play on offense or defense even if it isn't a touchdown. This will improve the quality of the atmosphere at Kenan and also help UNC's football image.
The Tar Heels travel to Clemson to take on the Tigers in a game that could decide the ACC championship. With a win the Heels would only need to win at Georgia Tech to be in great shape to win their first conference title since 1980. As crazy as this once seemed, it has become realistic.
Andrew Jones is in his sixth year covering football and basketball for Inside Carolina. He also in his fourth year as a copy editor and staff writer for the Wilmington Star-News and hosts a nightly radio show on WAAV-AM980 in Wilmington. He has also written for ACCNews and once published The College Game and the former Total Sports. He can be reached via e-mail at: AJWAAV@aol.com.