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The Tar Heels (3-2, 0-2 ACC) were hoping to bounce back from their miserable offensive performance in Atlanta last weekend, but instead delivered a carbon copy showing reeking of turnovers (three to UVa's zero) and a nonexistent ground game (39 yards on 23 carries). T.J. Yates completed 20 of his 36 passes for 135 yards and two interceptions, although he spent much of the afternoon under duress.
The Tar Heels struggled once again on third down (4-of-16), while also incurring five three-and-outs.
North Carolina's defense was once again solid in defeat, allowing Jameel Sewell (13-of-24, 136 yards) and the Cavalier offense just 254 total yards, but Virginia (1-3, 1-0 ACC) moved the ball well enough to capitalize on three Robert Randolph field goal attempts (36, 38, 43) in building a 9-3 lead midway through the third quarter. Casey Barth's lone field goal attempted found the middle of the uprights from 39 yards.
Mikell Simpson scored on an eight-yard run with 5:49 remaining to all but lock up Al Groh's first win of '09.
INSIDE THE GAME
A Passing Dilemma
North Carolina entered Saturday's contest ranked 78th nationally in passing offense (193.3 yards per game), but after only 135 yards of production against the Cavaliers, that ranking will likely spend the next week flirting with the century mark.
Yates averaged 6.8 yards per completion on Virginia's 3-4 defense, which is ridiculously low considering his best throw is undoubtedly the deep ball. Yet in the past two defeats, the long throws down the field have been few and far between for an offense in desperate need of big plays.
The red-shirt junior quarterback suggested in his postgame interview that he just needs to take a shot deep sometimes.
"[Offensive coordinator John] Shoop always says that you're never going to complete those things unless you throw the deep balls downfield," Yates said. "We've definitely got to do a better job of opening up and spreading out the defense. We did a lot of short passes today… When we have the chance to take a shot downfield, we've got to execute it."
In Shoop's defense, the offensive line's strong performance against East Carolina has turned out to be an anomaly. Yates was hounded as much on Saturday as he was in the 12-10 win in East Hartford three weeks ago – the two sacks listed in the final stat book hid the fact that the Marietta, Ga. native was either running for his life or digging dirt out of his facemask all afternoon.
Yates indicated that his internal clock hasn't sped up this season, despite the youth and inexperience along the offensive line. And he also refused to lay the blame solely on the shoulders of the big uglies.
"They're young guys," Yates said. "A lot of the guys haven't played before. It's the first time playing against a 3-4 defense and that different look that UVa gave us. Sometimes on 3rd down, there wasn't one down lineman. They were just standing up, running around and mixing the thing up."
UNC head coach Butch Davis estimated that Virginia blitzed or pressured on 10 of the first 19 plays on Saturday.
"They were taking advantage and looking at a young, inexperienced offensive line, and they were doing what good coaches do, which is try to exploit somebody," Davis said.
But it's also up to the offensive coaching staff to creatively hide the vulnerabilities up front so that Yates has more opportunities to find receivers down the field. While Davis is married to the pro-style offense and its blocking schemes, if the talent and/or bodies are not available to excel in that system, then alternative methods must be considered if this offense is to regain its confidence.
Keeping the Peace
In InsideCarolina.com's Sept. 16th edition of Deems & Mark: State of the Heels, Deems May indicated that dissension can set it when one side of the ball is playing at a much higher level than the other.
With North Carolina's defense resigned to wheelchair Shoop's offense around in UNC's three games against BCS-level opponents this season, it's apparent that irritation is starting the seep through.
When Deunta Williams was asked about the locker room scene after the loss, the starting free safety offered a long pause before saying, "It's hard. I was a little emotional after the game. When you work so hard for something in the offseason and it's not going quite as well as you would think…
"But in tough times, you don't want to do anything like point blame and give up on each other. With five minutes left in the game, I still thought our offense was going to score and we needed to stop them one more time. So I'm not ever going to give up."
Another teammate was less politically correct.
"It's very frustrating," said defensive end Robert Quinn, whose three sacks on Saturday give him six for the season. "They're going three-and-out and we're back on the field, and they're turning the ball over and we're back on the field. It's a team game. Not trying to play the blame game, but the offense has got to help us some."
Davis did his best to praise his defense and remind both players and media that football is the ultimate team game.
"I think you have to give our defensive kids some credit," Davis said. "I think you have to respect the job that they've done for the last two weeks, because it's tough. It's really tough to go out there, possession after possession… And how many times have you seen them deliver?"
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the offense.
An Improving Leg
In this column following the 31-17 victory over East Carolina, Grant Schallock was labeled as the root of UNC's field position problem. In that game, the junior punter averaged 31.2 yards on four attempts.
But in the two games since that performance, Schallock has found his rhythm and delivered in a 6-foot-7 kind of way – a 44.5 punting average on 13 opportunities. Those numbers will likely continue the Webster, N.C. native's move up the ACC ladder from his residence in the No. 5 spot prior to kickoff.