Irresistible forces will meet immovable objects when the Tar Heels have the ball on Saturday against Virginia in Charlottesville. Carolina's vastly improved rushing attack will face perhaps its toughest challenge of the season against the Cavs' outstanding defensive front.
However, it its vastly improved offensive line can provide Darian Durant and Carolina's talented group of receivers with time to operate in the passing game, Carolina may be able to see success against a Virginia secondary that is somewhat untested.
Here is a closer look at the UVa depth chart:
Marques Hagans (5-10, 211, Jr.) has started one game at quarterback in each of his last three years. But before he won the right to take the vacated starting position for the graduated Matt Schaub, the leading passer in school history, he also caught 28 passes, rushed for 96 yards and led the team with a 9.6-yard punt return average. He is the team's third-leading returning rusher. UNC coach John Bunting said Hagans may be the best athlete on the Cavaliers' roster. He will look to pick up his performance after an average showing last week at Temple. Christian Olsen (6-3, 226, So.), who transferred in after being named the MVP in Notre Dame's spring game last year, is the backup.
Like the Tar Heels, UVa possesses depth and versatility with its ground attack. For the first time since 1998, the Cavaliers had two players rush for at least 500 yards last season. Wali Lundy (5-10, 214, Jr.) led Virginia in rushing for the second year in a row with a career-high 929 yards last year – fourth-best in the conference. He led the league in rushing touchdowns with 14. Alvin Pearman (5-9, 204, Sr.) had a breakout year in 2003 with 643 yards rushing, and finished second in the country in receptions by a running back with 63. In the process, he set an all-time ACC record with 16 catches versus Florida State. Michael Johnson (5-9, 192, So.), a speedster with big-play potential, ran for 57 yards on 11 carries against Temple in the Cavs' season-opener. Fullback Jason Snelling (5-11, 245, So.), who has added 20 pounds during the offseason, redshirted last year after starting as a true freshman. He was invaluable in the passing game, catching 31 passes two years ago.
Michael McGrew (6-2, 201, Sr.) leads the way at wide receiver, but experience is limited at the position after that. McGrew, who redshirted after breaking his leg in training camp last fall, has 60 career receptions. Both Fontel Mines (6-2, 222, So.) and Deyon Williams (6-3, 188, So.) contributed as true freshman last season. Beyond that, Ron Morton (6-1, 185, So.) is the only other wide receiver to have played in a game. Emmanuel Byers (5-9, 191, Fr.) could take over the all-purpose role that Hagans served last year.Tight Ends
Preseason All-America and leading Mackey Award candidate Heath Miller (6-5, 255, Jr.), is arguably the best at his position in the country. He led the nation's tight ends with 70 catches for 835 yards last season, both ACC records; including four receptions for 44 yards in the Cavs' 38-13 win in Chapel Hill. After pulling in three passes for 45 yards and touchdown last week, Miller has now caught a pass in 23-straight consecutive games. With Miller as one of the team's top receiving threats, Patrick Estes (6-7, 280, Jr.) is an outstanding blocker and presents a huge pass catching target as well.
Preseason All-America guard Elton Brown (6-6, 338, Sr.) headlines a unit rated third-best in the country by The Sporting News. Brown, a leading candidate for the Outland Trophy, was voted the ACC's best blocker by the league's coaches last season. Called one of the team's most unheralded players by Groh, center Zac Yarbrough (6-4, 276, Sr.) is in his third year as the starter. Left tackle D'Brickshaw Ferguson (6-5, 295, Jr.), who possesses a black belt in karate, shares the team lead with 28 starts. Right tackle Brad Butler (6-8, 296, Jr.) has started the last 15 games, which includes two bowl appearances. Ron Darden (6-4, 327, So.) and Gordie Sammis (6-4, 296, So.) will both see action at left guard.
All three are third-year starters, and make up one of the country's best and most experienced at this position as well. End Chris Canty (6-7, 290, Sr.) has led the conference's defensive linemen in tackles the last two seasons, including four 10-plus-tackle games in 2003. The other end, Brennan Schmidt (6-3, 269, Jr.), has finished second in the category behind Canty in the previous two seasons. Nose tackle Andrew Hoffman (6-4, 284, Sr.) hasn't gotten the attention of Canty and Schmidt, but he has been remarkably consistent plugging up the middle with 56 stops in each of his last two seasons.
While most of the battles for playing time at the front seven positions were pretty much locked up before training camp began, the same cannot be said for the secondary. According to Groh, the Cavs have the most talent at these positions, but it is clearly represents the least experienced group on the defense. Safety and nickelback Jermaine Hardy 5-11, 208, Sr.) is back after recovering from offseason knee surgery. The other safety is Marquis Weeks (5-10, 214, Sr.) who moved over from tailback during the spring. Since rushing yards will likely be at a premium, the Tar Heels talented group of receivers will hope to exploit Virginia corners Marcus Hamilton (6-0, 187, So.) and Tony Franklin (5-10, 185, So.), who became only the first freshman to start at the position since Ronde Barber in 1994.
The Cavs return the nation's leading field goal kicker in Connor Hughes (5-10, 172, Jr.), who made 90-percent of his attempts (23 of 25) and all 40 extra-point opportunities last year. He is the only UVa kicker to ever hit more than three 50-plus yarders in a season. Last year's starting punter Tom Hagan left the team to pursue his baseball career, leaving the job to Kurt Korte (5-11, 185, Jr.), a transfer from William & Mary. Franklin and Pearman handle the return duties.