Buck: Between the Lines

The Virginia Cavaliers made humiliating the Tar Heels look easy, coasting to a 56-24 win, in a game that embarrassed everyone connected to football at North Carolina.

Despite a performance in which his Cavalier's dominated North Carolina in every fact of the game, Virginia head coach Al Groh was dismissive of the thumping his troops administered to the Tar Heels.

"I don't think it's a game to do jumping jacks or handsprings over," Groh said.

Defense

Last week, Tar Heel fans did their best to draw encouragement by what looked to be some improvement on defense. The Tar Heels allowed fewer third-down conversions, and more recorded more quarterback hurries.

This week, the floodgates of discontent burst open as North Carolina returned to the defensive ineptitude that has become the norm for the Tar Heels. Virginia's offense, though lacking record-setting quarterback Matt Schaub, was as dismissive of the Tar Heels' performance as their head coach's post-game comments indicated.

Virginia tallied an effortless 549 yards of offense, amassing 299 yards rushing and averaging 8.5 yards-per-play. Fourth and inches from deep in your own territory? No problem, hand off to Alvin Pearman and he'll get you seven yards.

The Tar Heels' psyche, bruised and battered from two previous seasons of futility, was crushed once again by an opponent who did little to disguise their contempt for UNC's defense. It will be amazing if UNC's defense can pull it together well enough in a week's time to avoid a blowout by Georgia Tech next Saturday. Reggie Ball, P.J. Daniels, and true freshman sensation wideout Calvin Johnson must be salivating at the prospect of padding their offensive stats next weekend.

Perhaps even more discouraging than the defense's performance is that the problems appear to be intractable. There are some talented players on the defense who at times show flashes of their abilities. As a unit though, they often appear to play as eleven individuals instead of as a team. They do not play confidently, which is evident in the poor tackling.

No player stood out on defense Saturday.

Offense

Against what is touted to be one of the best defenses in the ACC, the Tar Heels moved the ball effectively at times. Darian Durant, sacked five times in 2003 by Virginia, was dropped only once by the Cavaliers, and the UNC offensive line wasn't dominated by their fierce front seven.

The Cavs fared well against the UNC running game, but given that UNC's leading rusher in 2003 was Darian Durant (18 net yards), the Tar Heels saw some improvement in this area as well. The Heels rushed for 135 net yards, as compared to 58 a year ago, even though they had to abandon the running game for the most part by the end of the first half.

Overall, the offensive stats provide some cause for encouragement. Against what is being billed as one of the best defenses in the ACC, the Tar Heels rolled up 423 yards of offense. However, the poor third-down conversion percentage (4-10) reflects that Virginia stopped the Heels when they needed to.

With all that said, the offense was unable to punch the ball into the end zone on a fourth and two on the goal line for a touchdown that might have mattered. The Heels only scored 10 points until two late touchdowns that came long after the outcome was decided.

Part of the explanation is the horrible field position yielded by the UNC defense and special teams. Six of UNC's possessions began on the twenty yard line or less. Another part of the explanation is that UVa's defense is, as it happens, very good.

In perhaps the one bright spot for the Tar Heels, there is no question that Adarius Bowman is a special player. Not only is he a great receiver who can make the clutch catch, he is a good blocker as well.

Special teams and Turnover Margin

Inexplicably, the Tar Heels were embarrassed as much by their special teams play as by their defense, with the lone exception being the punting of David Woolridge.

It goes without saying that the kickoff coverage bordered on non-existent. Connor Barth kicked his first field goal, but missed an extra point. UNC's return teams fared little better, though Mike Mason and Del Roberts each had a decent kickoff return – they had a lot of practice on Saturday.

For the turnover tally, UNC is -6 for the season, giving up the ball twice on Saturday and failing to record a takeaway.

Next Week

The Tar Heels come back to Kenan Stadium to face Georgia Tech in perhaps the most pivotal game of the UNC season. They face the Yellow Jackets having experienced the worst-case scenario Saturday – a blowout loss in Charlottesville.

Georgia Tech, in contrast, comes off a miraculous victory on the road at Clemson's Death Valley. A miffed punt snap by Clemson gave the Yellow Jackets a chance to win in the final seconds – and the Yellow Jackets took it in dramatic fashion.

The two teams appear headed in the opposite directions, and for the Tar Heels to rally after Saturday's defeat, they will need a miracle of their own.


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