Embattled Heels try to end streak

On the subject of
University of North Carolina
football, Virginia quarterback Marc
Verica is like a lot of people. “I don’t think I’ve followed it as
closely as some people might have,” said Verica of the suspensions
that have wracked Carolina’s roster. “Really, the extent to my
awareness of it is whatever reads across the ticker on ESPN. I
might catch something here or there.

“I’m not exactly sure who’s playing and who’s not [or] how many
weeks this guy is going to be out. I have too much on my plate that
I need to focus on and worry about.” By Friday, Virginia had
learned that running back Ryan Houston had been cleared for today’s
6 p.m. kickoff at Scott Stadium. Houston was the leading rusher on
a Tar Heels team that finished 8-5 in 2009. Earlier in the week,
Carolina announced the dismissal of defensive tackle Marvin Austin
and confirmed that defensive end Robert Quinn and wide receiver
Greg Little had been ruled ineligible by the
NCAA. Safety Deunta Williams was
suspended for the first four games of the season and cornerback
Kendrick Burney will see his six-game suspension expire next week.
NCAA has been investigating the
football program for improper
benefits and academic fraud, but the Tar Heels (3-2 overall, 1-0
ACC) have managed to persevere. They go to Charlottesville with a
three-game winning streak while Virginia (2-3, 0-1) will be looking
to stop a two-game skid. The Cavaliers enter the game as a 6
sup>1/sub>2-point underdog against a Carolina team that
hasn’t won at Scott Stadium since 1981. “I’d be lying if I said I
wasn’t familiar with [the streak]; I get asked about it all the
time,” said Verica, who quarterbacked the Cavaliers to a 16-13
overtime victory over then-No. 18 Carolina in 2008. A touchdown run
by Cedric Peerman tied the score with 47 seconds remaining in
regulation, and an overtime touchdown run by Peerman prompted the
UVa students to storm the field. “I definitely have good memories
of that game,” Verica said. “It was one we won in pretty dramatic
fashion. At the same time, you have to understand that game truly
has no bearing or effect on this week.” Virginia’s winning streak
over Carolina in Charlottesville has reached 14 games, four times
when the Tar Heels were ranked and on multiple occasions when UNC
was favored. Since 2002, UVa has beaten the Tar Heels seven times
in eight meetings, including three times in Chapel Hill, N.C. “I’m
not privileged to the entire history,” said coach Butch Davis, who
is 0-3 against Virginia since coming to Carolina. “Some years you
don’t win because you don’t have enough talent. Some years you
don’t win because you make mistakes or whatever.” Even with the
departures, Carolina doesn’t lack for talent. When 2009 sack leader
Quinn was unable to play, the Tar Heels replaced him with 6-foot-4,
235-pound Donte Paige-Moss, a former Parade All-American. While
Carolina certainly has an advantage in four- and five-star
recruits, Virginia will be unveiling a Parade All-American of its
own today when 6-foot-6, 350-pound freshman Morgan Moses makes his
first start. An injury to starting left offensive tackle Landon
Bradley has caused a reshuffling of UVa’s offensive line, with
right tackle Oday Aboushi moving to the left side and Moses taking
Aboushi’s spot on the right side. UVa is also without top tight end
Joe Torchia, who was lost two weeks ago to a season-ending shoulder
injury. The Cavaliers have been plagued by poor starts, not only
during their current losing streak but for an entire month. Their
total offense in the first quarter of Games 1-5 has been 132, 57,
44, 17 and 32 yards. “It’s not like we’re coming out there without
a sense of urgency and we’re not ready to play a
football game,” Verica said. “It’s a
matter of execution. When you come out in the first quarter and
you’re just going three-and-out and three-and-out, it puts you in a
hole.” And, this season, the Tar Heels have been making the most of
their opportunities. “When you have people that are attacking your
football family, sometimes you just
circle up and say, ‘Listen we are the only ones that care about
you, the ones that are inside the room, inside the family,”
first-year UVa head coach Mike London said. “Butch has done a nice
job of rallying his troops.” The latest
NCAA decisions were not unexpected,
Davis conceded. “I think, in some respects, some things haven’t
changed because [Austin, Quinn and Little] weren’t able to play in
the previous five games,” Davis said. “As painful as this was and
as disappointing as this was, it does move us closer to closure.”
KEYS TO THE GAME By Doug Doughty | The Roanoke Times A supportive
fan base. When a 2-1 Virginia team played host to Florida State on
Oct. 2, fewer than 50,000 seats filled the stadium. Maybe the
students were turned off by a noon kickoff and reports of an early
blowout, but the Cavaliers got their preferred 6 p.m. kickoff for
this one. Limit turnovers. Virginia was better last week at Georgia
Tech, where Verica did not yield an interception, but wide receiver
Dontrelle Inman had a crucial fumble to start the second half.
Carolina hasn’t had a turnover in its last two games.. Have Verica
match T.J. Yates. Virginia’s quarterback play has been inferior in
the last two games, when Verica’s opposing QBs have been ACC
preseason player of the year Christian Ponder and 2009 All-ACC pick
Josh Nesbitt. UNC’s Yates is having his best season but, like
Verica, is a career journeyman.