Head-to-Head: UNC-UVa

What are the key battles to watch in Saturday's game against Virginia? Inside Carolina takes a closer look at the five head-to-head matchups that will determine the outcome ...

1. T.J. Yates vs. UVa's Pass Defense

For the third week in a row, North Carolina quarterback T.J. Yates will face an increasingly difficult challenge. UVa's opponents are only averaging 199 yards and one touchdown per game through the air, while the Cavs have recorded nine sacks and two interceptions.

Junior cornerback Chris Cook and senior safety Jamaal Jackson have combined for 31 tackles in the secondary, while seven different members of the Cavalier front seven have registered sacks. UVa will also utilize a 3-3-5 scheme with various blitz packages to confuse Yates.

"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, making sure that we are good in our protections," UNC head coach Butch Davis said.

Virginia head coach Al Groh is more concerned with containing Yates and his surprising success with completing the deep ball.

"They are very explosive offensively," Groh said. "The three receivers -- [Brooks] Foster,[Hakeem] Nicks and [Brandon] Tate -- are very explosive. They've had seven or eight plays this year over 50 yards already. A lot of it is off of some very intricate schemes and a lot of play-action to try to minimize the rush on the quarterback…

"I think their average yardage per catch is 16 yards for the season, which is unbelievable."

Yates' numbers have been mind-boggling for a red-shirt freshman, completing 33-of-50 passes for 562 yards and six touchdowns. But Davis has been more impressed with his game management than his statistics.

"He's minimized his mental mistakes and he's been very efficient, very poised," Davis said. "When he's been called on to make plays, he's done a pretty good job – he's made some plays. Made a lot more good plays than he's made poor plays."

2. UNC's Defensive Line vs. UVa's Quarterbacks

Groh has been reluctant to name a starting quarterback between sophomore Jameel Sewell and freshman Peter Lalich, as each player brings a different attribute to the field.

Sewell has completed 20-of-37 passes for 147 yards to go along with one touchdown and two interceptions. The left-hander has also rushed for 45 yards on the ground, but lacks the arm strength and accuracy to nail down the starting spot. Lalich is a traditional pocket passer and has completed 16-of-23 passes for 147 yards and a touchdown. The right-hander has a quick release and has the ability to stretch teams vertically.

Groh would prefer that the Carolina defensive staff have to prepare for both signal-callers.

"Clearly the more things you can make the opponent think about issues to deal with and decisions to make, then the more burdensome it becomes for the opponent," Groh said. "As you pointed out [one of our quarterbacks is] right handed and one's left handed, one has shown his adeptness and has two touchdown runs of over 40 yards and one is beginning to show some skill in the pocket."

Sewell fits the mold of East Carolina's Patrick Pinkney, a fleet-footed quarterback who was able to move outside of the pocket to buy time and find his receivers in North Carolina's zone defense last Saturday. While the Tar Heels' defensive tackles typically got a solid push up the middle, defensive ends Hilee Taylor and E.J. Wilson struggled in keeping containment on the edges.

"It's a major point that we've got to get better at that," Davis said. "We've got to be able to pull the quarterback up and keep him inside the pocket."

It should also be noted that the UVa offensive line has only allowed three sacks on 61 pass attempts this season. The Duke Blue Devils were unable to lay a single hit against the Cavalier quarterbacks last weekend.

3. UNC's Running Backs vs. UVa's Run Defense

While Yates has done his job in North Carolina's passing attack, the same cannot be said for the Tar Heels' ground game. The running back by committee approach has only yielded 179 yards on a 2.8 yards per carry average through two contests.

"In every offense, you want to be able to establish the run first, and there are some times when we haven't been able to establish the run first," senior center Scott Lenahan said. "We've had to run the ball and then pass. So that's something that we're working on and that we'll work on for the rest of the season."

Red-shirt freshman Johnny White has slowly begun to separate himself from the group, as he turned in a solid performance against East Carolina – 49 yards on 10 carries.

"We really felt like Johnny played really well in [the ECU] game," Davis said. "He did a nice job in protection, did a nice job catching the ball out of the backfield [and] running the ball... Johnny's been very solid and very consistent."

Fortunately for the Tar Heels, the UVa defense has given up an average of 141.5 yards on the ground this season, highlighted by Wyoming's 199 yards on 55 carries in the Cavalier's season opener.

Groh's 3-4 scheme showcases blitzes from each linebacker position (headlined by LBs Antonio Appleby and Jon Cooper), so White and Co. will have opportunities for big plays if they trust their blockers and hit the open holes hard.

4. UNC's Offensive Line vs. Chris Long

If senior defensive end Chris Long continues to terrorize opposing offenses at his current pace, he will soon step out from behind that large shadow cast by his father – NFL great Howie Long.

"He is very special," Davis said. "He's got a great motor, and fundamentally he's very sound."

Long has already recorded four sacks to go along with 15 tackles, and Groh uses his All-America candidate all over the front line to confuse and disrupt.

"You can see in these two ball games – he's been every place from over the left guard, the right guard, the right end, the left end," Davis said. "They're moving him around in different situations and different blitzes… They make great utilization of him."

Look for Long to test the left side of North Carolina's offensive line early and often, as left tackle Kyle Jolly and left guard Aaron Stahl will be playing in only their third collegiate game. If the Heels elect to double-team Long, the running backs or tight ends must be effective in their pass blocking as Groh has been known to blitz safety Nate Lyles from the slot position.

Davis is hoping his offensive line is up for the challenge following a difficult test in Greenville, N.C. last weekend.

"It was a good solid performance [at ECU]," Davis said. "The quarterback got hit a little bit more than he got hit the week before, and came under a little bit of pressure and had some sacks, but for the most part I thought the [offensive linemen] did a nice job."

5. Brandon Tate vs. UVa's Special Teams

James Madison did their best to kick away from Tate in the season opener, holding the dynamic offensive weapon to just 19 yards on three punt returns while not allowing a kickoff return opportunity.

East Carolina decided to challenge Tate and his return units, and subsequently paid the price – Tate returned three punts and three kickoffs for a combined 161 yards and a touchdown.

How Virginia elects to approach Tate will be a key decision in this conference battle.

"Clearly we have to start out with the mentality that we can't afford to give up one-play touchdowns," Groh said. "They've got one guy who's been responsible for that in dual ways. Tate's got three of them as a receiver and one of them as a kick returner."

Tate's big-play potential in both punt returns and kickoff returns will place a significant amount of stress on UVa's special teams units.

"(It's) difficult to determine which one is more challenging to control them in," Groh said. "Special teams is such a scrambled situation that you can practice, practice, practice and a lot just depends on what happens after the ball is in the air."

Groh's kickers are veterans that have dealt with playmakers in the past, so they will arrive at Kenan Stadium Saturday morning prepared and focused on limiting Tate's touches. Senior placekicker Chris Gould has been successful in directional kicks and hitting the ball into the end zone, while senior punter Ryan Weigand is averaging a conference-best 50.2 yards per punt.

"They're sound in the kicking game," Davis said. "Their punter's averaging 46 yards per punt already, and he's kicking the ball very, very well. Their kicker on kickoffs is kicking the ball routinely in the end zone, which I think is a huge part of it."

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