UVa's Defense Presents Challenge

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – North Carolina doesn't have any time to dwell on its loss to East Carolina, as Virginia and its 3-4 defensive scheme come to Kenan Stadium at noon Saturday to kick off the Tar Heels' ACC schedule.

"When you lose a ball game, probably the quickest way to get over it is to get back to work -- working on the next week's opponent," head coach Butch Davis said at his weekly Monday press conference. "We had great meetings yesterday with the players… The best way for them to gain experience is obviously to play, but the next best way is to see themselves playing and see how they could have done something better."

The gradual improvement that the Tar Heel coaching staff is striving to achieve must take another step this weekend when the Cavaliers come to town looking to start 2-0 in conference play, following last week's 24-13 victory over Duke.

This young North Carolina squad appears to have bought into Davis' philosophy of moving on quickly to the next opponent.

"Our goal here is to win an ACC Championship," junior linebacker Mark Paschal said. "And you have to take care of the first ACC game. We would have loved to have had last week, but last week is done and this week is Virginia."

While head coach Al Groh's UVa offense has struggled mightily in the first two games, gaining only 100 yards in a season-opening loss to Wyoming and 324 versus lowly Duke, the Cavalier defense has lived up to its preseason hype, allowing only 340.5 yards and 18.0 points per game.

It also presents a new challenge for red-shirt freshman quarterback T.J. Yates, who will see a 3-4 defensive scheme for the first time. This unique alignment features three down lineman and four linebackers in the front seven.

"They're a totally different defense than the previous two teams," Davis said. "Predominantly, they were 4-3 concept teams – this is a 3-4 concept. You can see Virginia's background from the NFL. Coach Groh having coached with Bill Parcells – there's a tremendous amount of 3-4 defense that they ran with the New York Giants, and they are very, very sound, very fundamentally sound. They're big [and] they're physical."

Yates has only been sacked three times in his first two collegiate starts, as his offensive line has given him time to pass for 562 yards and six touchdowns on a 66 percent completion rate. The Cavalier defense has not been that kind this season, allowing less than 200 yards per game through the air.

"One of the things that you don't generally associate sometimes with a 3-4 team is the number of sacks," Davis said. "In two ball games, they've already got nine sacks. Their ability to put pressure on the quarterback – I'm sure that that's going to be a major challenge for our offense this week is making sure that we are good in our protections."

Four of those sacks belong to standout Chris Long. The senior is listed at right end, but Groh uses his defensive playmaker all over the front line – lining up sometimes over the left guard or the left tackle, and sometimes lining up over the right guard and right tackle. Davis is all too familiar with Long's lineage from his days in the NFL.

"I had the misfortune at times coaching against his father Howie when he was with the Oakland Raiders, and you want to talk about a chip off the old block," Davis said. "This is a young man that plays absolutely lights out football."

The Tar Heel offensive line will be called upon to give Yates solid protection while also opening more holes for an anemic rushing attack that is averaging only 89.5 yards per game. East Carolina dominated the time of possession 36:08 to 23:52 on Saturday night, and the Tar Heels must improve on that statistic to keep its defense off the field for extended periods of time.

Saturday's contest will mark the 112th meeting between these two teams in the South's oldest rivalry. Virginia has won 14 of the previous 19 meetings, although the Tar Heels have won five of the last seven in Chapel Hill.

Inside Carolina Top Stories