Previewing Virginia

North Carolina (2-4, 0-2) travels to Charlottesville to play the Virginia Cavaliers (5-2, 3-1) in an ACC match up at noon on Saturday.

The last time the Tar Heels prevailed in Charlottesville was in 1981, a 17-14 victory. For the Tar Heels, there has never been a better time to break a streak that has lasted more than twenty years.

"That's a long, long time," North Carolina head coach John Bunting said at Tuesday's press conference. "Obviously we'd like to take care of that problem this weekend. In order to do that, we have got to prepare well."

The "Charlottesville Curse," along with bad blood spawned by the de-commitment of Ronald Curry and a host of other issues that have fueled the rivalry, this game has become one that fans of both schools circle on their calendars every year.

Like North Carolina, Virginia depends on an unusual number of first or second year players throughout their depth chart.

The offense

Normally we begin with an assessment of the opposing offense's quarterback, but in this case big-play senior receiver Billy McMullen (6-4, 208) should go to the head of the class.


Matt Schaub

The Cavalier receiver has had a stellar career, challenging the records of former UVa receivers such as Germaine Crowell and Herman Moore. McMullen broke Moore's UVa record for receiving yards against Duke, and now has 2,551 total receiving yards during the course of his career.

McMullen has also enjoyed success against North Carolina, last year catching 11 balls for 122 yards as Virginia nearly came back in the fourth quarter to defeat the Tar Heels. As a sophomore, McMullen pulled in a 44-yard catch against the UNC in Charlottesville in the UVa victory. McMullen is fourth in the ACC in receiving yards per game, recording 66.71 yards per game, and is averaging 4.3 catches per game.

Junior quarterback Matt Schaub (6-5, 235) is the main signal-caller for the Cavaliers. Schaub has proved to be an extraordinarily accurate passer, completing 69.7 percent of his passes, leading the ACC in that statistic. Schaub has also tossed 17 touchdown passes, tops in the ACC in that category as well.

Schaub, however, is not the only option Virginia has at the quarterback position. Freshman Marques Hagans (5-10, 202), has displayed the ability to move the Cavs offense as well.


Marques Hagans

"They're two different kinds of quarterbacks," Bunting said. "(Marques) Hagans is a very fine athlete. Like Georgia Tech, when I expected to see some of their backup quarterback, Bilbo, I anticipate we'll see some of this guy as a change-up."

In past years, with the likes of Thomas Jones and Antoine Womack, the Cavaliers have attempted to run the ball down the throat of the Carolina defense. Virginia has two running backs, freshman Wali Lundy (6-1, 212) and sophomore Alvin Pearman (5-10, 194), which will pose difficulties for a Tar Heel defense that is next to last in the ACC in stopping the run.

Lundy also leads the Cavs -- and the ACC -- in pass receptions per game, averaging 5.4 catches. Lundy snared 11 receptions last week in Virginia's win over Clemson. Pearman is the third leading receiver for the Cavs and has 13 catches for 145 yards.

"(Wali Lundy) … is as good (a tail back) as I've seen, and we recruited [him] very hard," Bunting said. "He can do it all; he's a Marshall Faulk of the ACC….they've got Pearman playing and they've got Lundy playing, and they've got a couple of other backs who play."

The Wahoos also have a weapon in the passing game in freshman tight end Heath Miller (6-5, 256), who has seven touchdown receptions this year and 15 total catches for 146 yards.


Wali Lundy

The Virginia offensive line has experienced numerous changes during this season as a result of injuries. The Cavs have had eight different starters on the offensive line thus far in the 2002 campaign.

The Cavs offensive line, overall, is very young and inexperienced. True freshman D'Brickshaw Ferguson (6-5, 265) will start at the important left tackle spot. At left guard, the nod will go to another true freshman, Brian Barthelmes (6-7, 286). Sophomore Zac Yarborough (6-4, 275) starts at center, and another sophomore, Elton Brown (6-6, 324), starts at right guard. The only real experience on the offensive line comes from senior Mike Mullins (6-8, 292) at right tackle. Despite their youth, the Virginia offensive line has surrendered only eight sacks this season.

The Cavaliers average 355 yards per game in total offense and 31 points per game.

As to the style of the Cavalier offense, Bunting said, "They spread you out with regular people, with two backs, one tight end and two wides and spread you out and throw the ball around, make you play match-up man-to-man or match-up zone defense. And then they're going to get into a typical pro formation and run the ball … and make you play fundamental, sound, technique defense."

The Cavaliers play a 3-4 defensive set as their base defense, with only three down linemen and four linebackers in their front seven.

The defense

The Cavalier defense is much like the Tar Heel defense in that they depend on young players throughout their front seven. One of those true freshmen, however, is rapidly making a name for himself.


Darryl Blackstock

Outside linebacker Darryl Blackstock (6-4, 226) was named as the ACC Player of the Week for his 11 tackle effort in the Cavs' win last week over Clemson. He also had a sack in that game. Blackstock has 60 tackles on the season, eight tackles for loss, and three sacks through seven games. He will be a player destined to play on Sundays and to garner many ACC and national honors before he completes his college career. He leads all ACC rookies in sacks.

At one inside linebacker position, senior Angelo Crowell (6-1, 235) has emerged as one of the leaders of the Cavalier defense. He leads the Cavs in tackles with 70, including 40 solo stops. He has four tackles for loss and two sacks. He is currently listed as questionable to play in Saturday's contest due to a leg injury suffered against Clemson. If he cannot go, he will be replaced by sophomore Rich Bedesern (6-2, 235), who has played in all seven Cavalier games, and has 22 tackles to his credit.

At the other inside linebacker spot, senior Merrill Robertson (6-1, 248) has recorded 57 tackles (45 unassisted), five tackles-for-loss, and three sacks this season. At the final linebacker spot, sophomore Brian White may start. White has 25 tackles (12 unassisted), one tackle-for-loss, and one sack. However, junior Raymond Mann (6-1, 238), who began the year as the starter, may return this week.


Merrill Robertson

In the three down-lineman scheme, sophomore Chris Canty (6-7, 290) has embraced a leadership role on the young Cavs defense. Canty has 39 tackles (24 unassisted) and four sacks.

Asked about the leadership role of Canty, Virginia head coach Al Groh said, "I think it's becoming that way. I think with defenses in general and defensive lines in particular, it's a good thing to have a player of his nature there."

On the opposite side of the defensive line, true freshman Brennan Schmidt (6-3, 274) has also begun to make a name for himself. He leads all UVa defensive linemen with 41 tackles. Schmidt had 11 solo tackles against Wake Forest.

Rounding out the down linemen in the UVa defense is sophomore Andrew Hoffman (6-5, 282). Hoffman has 27 tackles (16 unassisted).

The UVa secondary is much more experienced than the front seven, led by senior safeties Shernard Newby (6-1, 208) and Jerton Evans (5-11, 200). Evans is fourth on the Cavs' defense in tackles, with 55 (36 unassisted), has two tackles-for-loss, and three pass break-ups. Newby has two interceptions and senior reserve safety Chris Williams (6-3, 208) has two interceptions this season.


Chris Williams

At the corner spots, junior Almondo Curry (5-8, 178) has 33 tackles (24 unassisted), three tackles-for-loss, and two sacks this season. The starter at the other corner is junior Jamaine Winborne (5-10, 206), who has 29 tackles (22 unassisted) and three tackles for loss.

Despite these numbers, Virginia is dead last in the ACC in rushing defense, giving up an average of 225 yards per game. The Cavs are also generous in pass defense, yielding 210 yards per game.

Of the UVa defense, Bunting said, "Their defense, even though it has a low ranking against the run, has played well against the run at times. They are stout, they are tough, play physical, and their front seven wads things up a lot. On occasion they might get worn down in a way that we've gotten worn down. They are playing with a lot of confidence right now, which helps them."

Prognosis

Though this isn't a game between two ACC contenders, it is a game with important ramifications for both teams. It isn't one, however, that shouldn't be impacted at all by The Streak in Charlottesville.

Both coaching staffs have turned over since the last game at Virginia. The majority of players for each team have little or no connection with The Streak. Though it might make interesting copy for newspapers, it will have little or no impact on the game itself. If anything, North Carolina plays better on the road this year than it does at home.


Al Groh

What will have an impact on the outcome, perhaps more than anything else, will be the coaching strategies employed by both teams. North Carolina and Virginia are more alike than different in terms of experience (or the lack thereof), defense (or the lack thereof), and in terms of talent.

In rushing defense, Virginia is ninth in the ACC, and North Carolina is eighth. In total defense, Virginia is eighth and North Carolina is ninth. In passing offense, North Carolina is first, and Virginia is third. In rushing offense, North Carolina is ninth and Virginia is eighth. In pass defense, North Carolina is fifth and Virginia is sixth.

The factor that may decide the contest is the turnover ratio. Since 1982, UVa is 9-2-1 against UNC when committing fewer turnovers than the Heels. The Tar Heels are 4-2 when committing fewer turnovers than the Cavs in the same period of time.

As a wildcard, don't be surprised if UNC offensive coordinator, and former Virginia offensive coordinator, Gary Tranquill, doesn't throw some "trickeration," into the mix.

Though it is difficult to project a UNC win in this contest, especially with UVa having registered five consecutive wins, this is a game that could easily tilt towards the Tar Heels. UNC can get vertical on Virginia, while the Wahoos will depend on a rather pedestrian running and mid-to-short passing game.

If the Cavs play the game too conservatively, and the Tar Heels open things up offensively, this could be the first UNC win in the ACC.


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