Countdown to Kickoff: UNC vs. UVa

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – No. 18 North Carolina is looking to build on its 5-1 (1-1 ACC) record this weekend against Virginia, but the journey to Charlottesville has not been a pleasant one for the Tar Heels since 1981. Butch Davis is hoping to change that in his first visit to Scott Stadium on Saturday.

North Carolina's last triumph over the Cavaliers in Virginia was a 17-14 victory on Nov. 14, 1981 – several months after MTV's initial launch and when Hall and Oates' "Private Eyes" owned the airwaves. Tar Heel fans refer to the 13-game losing streak as "The "Curse" and for good reason – there have been several opportunities for North Carolina to escape Charlottesville with victory that ultimately failed.

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The Whole Nine Yards

Countdown to Kickoff
Remember 2002? UNC jumped out to a 21-0 lead behind Darian Durant (15-for-19 passing for 226 yards and three touchdowns), only to lose 37-27 when the sophomore signal-caller injured his right thumb in third quarter.

And then there's the low point of the Mack Brown era in 1996. The sixth-ranked Tar Heels were in position for a Fiesta Bowl bid and leading the Cavaliers 17-3 in the fourth quarter. Chris Keldorf marched North Carolina down to the UVa nine-yard line, but threw an ill-advised ball on 3rd-and-goal to the right flat that Antwan Harris returned 95 yards for a score. Virginia would rally to defeat UNC, 20-17.

While North Carolina holds a 56-52-4 advantage in the South's oldest rivalry (dating back to 1892), Virginia (3-3, 1-1 ACC) has won five of the last six meetings and eight of the last ten.

But Davis refuses to put much stock into "The Curse" talk.

"To these kids it really doesn't make any difference," said Davis, who was as assistant coach at Oklahoma State in 1981. "None of these guys were alive back during that period of time."

There is no doubt that this coaching staff has preached the importance of the next game on the schedule, because the players are not focused on the past. Rather, they're concerned with what's going to take place on Saturday afternoon.

"We've got to concentrate on what we can control," sophomore safety Deunta Williams said. "And what we can control is this year. We can't control any of the years in the past. So we have to put that stuff out of our heads."

For the Tar Heels, the bigger concern is replacing Brandon Tate and his ACC-leading 163.7 all-purpose yards per game after the senior wide receiver tore his ACL and MCL against Notre Dame. But wide receiver Hakeem Nicks (33 receptions for 553 yards and four touchdowns) and running back Shaun Draughn (200 yards on 36 carries over the past two games) have provided a spark for North Carolina at the skill positions. It doesn't hurt that UNC continues to lead the nation in interceptions (14) and turnover margin (+1.83).

"They're taking the ball away, they're not giving it up, and they're playing great on special teams," Virginia head coach Al Groh said. "And they have some big-play performers on offense so that every drive doesn't have to be a 12-play drive. That's a great formula. We'd all subscribe to that formula if we knew it was guaranteed."

Virginia has emerged from the shadows after suffering some early blowouts to the likes of Southern California, Connecticut and Duke. The primary reason for the Cavaliers' turnaround is senior running back Cedric Peerman, who rushed for 283 total yards in victories over Maryland and East Carolina heading into this weekend's Coastal division showdown.

"It's definitely a big game," Williams said. "They're a team that's picking up some heat right now. They're starting to get things rolling. They have a lot of great athletes. No. 37 [Peerman] is amazing, the things that he does running the ball."

And if North Carolina needed anymore motivation against Virginia, a win would make the Tar Heels bowl eligible for the first time since 2004, when a season-ending victory over Duke was needed to secure a postseason bid.

Saturday's kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m. (ABC/ESPN2).

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