No. 15 UNC out for revenge vs. struggling Virginia
A year ago, North Carolina’s Sam Howell passed for 353 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions against Virginia — and still had to watch his team absorb a 38-31 loss at home.
The sophomore quarterback will look for a better team result Saturday night when his No. 15 Tar Heels (4-1, 4-1 ACC) visit the slumping Cavaliers (1-4, 1-4) in Charlottesville, Va.
Howell, who ranks second in the conference with 280.6 passing yards per game, faces Virginia’s league-worst pass defense (286.0 yards per game).
North Carolina rebounded from a 31-28 defeat at Florida State on Oct. 17 by whipping then-No. 23 North Carolina State 48-21 on Saturday. Howell completed 18 of 29 passes for 252 yards with one touchdown and ran for a score. Javonte Williams (160 yards, three TDs) and Michael Carter (106, one TD) both rushed for more than 100 yards against the rival Wolfpack.
The Tar Heels lead the ACC in total offense (531.2 yards per game) and rank second in scoring (37.8 per game).
“North Carolina is a great team. We definitely have to just focus on tackling their backs, tackling their receivers … they have really good players,” said Cavaliers linebacker Nick Jackson, who leads the ACC with 10.6 tackles per game and last week had 16 stops against in a 19-14 loss at Miami. “I think our coaches are going to prepare us really well for it and I’m excited to play them.”
Virginia has lost four in a row since a season-opening win against Duke.
Against Miami, quarterback Brennan Armstrong returned after missing a game with a concussion, and passed for 181 yards with two TDs and rushed for a game-high 91 yards. Tight end Tony Poljan, a grad transfer from Central Michigan, caught a touchdown pass for the third time in his last four games.
“We’re a different team with Brennan,” Mendenhall said. “The throws he can make, how tough he is when he scrambles, and just his leadership style. … He makes a difference for us, even though it hasn’t showed on the outcome yet.”
Tar Heels coach Mack Brown expects a fight from the Cavaliers, regardless of their record.
“They play so hard. It’s one thing about (Mendenhall’s) teams every time I’ve ever seen them on the field, even when I was in TV,” Brown said. “They’re gonna play hard every week, and that’s a trade of a great coach to get them to do that. And we’ll have to match that intensity.”
Brown said he was heartened by the way kicker Grayson Atkins has responded after starting the season in something of a slump. A former FCS All-American at Furman, Atkins had missed four of his first six field-goal attempts (he was 13-for-15 last year at Furman), but made a 40-yarder and a 34-yarder against NC State.
Atkins’ performance could be significant as the Tar Heels try to stay relevant in the national rankings. He missed from 44 yards in the three-point loss to Florida State.
This is the 125th meeting of “The South’s Oldest Rivalry,” with North Carolina holding a 63-57-4 edge in the series. Virginia has won the last three meetings. Exactly 50 years ago, the Tar Heels won the only previous time they met on Halloween, 30-15 on Oct. 31, 1970.
Mendenhall did not provide updates Monday for injured starting safeties Joey Blount and Brenton Nelson, who both missed the Miami game along with 6-foot-7 freshman receiver Lavel Davis Jr. (undisclosed reasons) Cornerback Darrius Bratton and starting right tackle Ryan Swoboda left Saturday’s game due to injuries.
For North Carolina, wide receiver Beau Corrales is expected to miss his second straight game with a lower-body injury.
–Field Level Media