Virginia set to host North Carolina in ACC matchup
The numbers suggest Virginia could find a cure for its offensive inconsistency on Saturday.
That's when the Cavaliers (4-3, 2-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) hosts North Carolina, which according to statistics has one of the porous defenses in the country.
Virginia struggled last week in a 20-13 loss at Duke, but it's best to look beyond the numbers before expecting a cure-all in powder blue on Saturday, Cavaliers coach Mike London said.
The Tar Heels (3-4, 1-2) are allowing 43.3 points per game, ranking 124th out of 128 teams at the Division I level. Their rushing defense ranks 107th, and their passing and total defense rank 119th.
London said it's important to look at who the Tar Heels have played, noting that their losses have come against No. 18 East Carolina, No. 7 Notre Dame, No. 21 Clemson and Virginia Tech.
And several came before quarterback Marquise Williams established himself as North Carolina's starter, which has helped give the Tar Heels one of the most explosive offensive attacks in the country.
Williams ranks second to Florida State's Jameis Winston in the ACC with an average of 317.7 yards per game, and has been more prolific since seizing the job. He's accounted for 898 yards and nine touchdowns in the last two games, a 48-43 victory against Georgia Tech and a 50-43 loss to the Fighting Irish.
''He's as good as anybody right now that we've seen, and he's very productive with his offense for what he does and what they ask them to do and the ability to just take off and make a play,'' London said.
Despite seeing his team's points against average rise in those two games, Tar Heels coach Larry Fedora said he's pleased to be finished with Georgia Tech, and confident the defense is getting better.
The Yellow Jackets' triple-option gained 611 yards against North Carolina.
''It's more about attitude and effort and all of those things,'' Fedora said. ''I'm happy to say that we don't face the triple-option again this year so we don't have to be concerned with it. I still think that our attitudes and the way we're practicing, and the belief in what we're doing is still very good.''
The Cavaliers hope to put that theory to the test.
Here are things to watch when North Carolina visits Virginia:
CONTAINING WILLIAMS: UNC quarterback Marquise Williams has bordered on the ridiculous in his last two games, accounting for an average of 449 yards and 4.5 touchdowns. The Cavaliers' defense is geared toward disrupting the quarterback and causing mistakes, but can't get caught over-pursuing Williams. The Cavaliers run defense, ranked ninth in the country, will be put to its most severe test to date.
JOHNS OR LAMBERT? Quarterback Greyson Lambert could have played for Virginia last week at Duke, but coach Mike London said Matt Johns had a good week of practice, so he started. The Cavaliers finished with 465 yards of offense, but managed just 13 points. Is it time for Lambert to make his return?
POSSIBLE SHOOTOUT: Almost every game the Tar Heels have played has been a shootout, while Virginia's whole approach is geared to holding teams down and doing enough on offense, and defense, to have a chance. If this game turns into a track meet, North Carolina probably has more to gain from the pace.
BOUNCEBACK: Virginia's players have talked at length this season about how they have resolved not to let disappointment drag them down, which they admittedly did last season, when they finished 2-10. They still share the lead in the Coastal Division, and will have to forget last week to get back to winning.
STREAK: UNC has won the last four meetings in the series, all since London took over at Virginia, and three of the games have been very lopsided. The Cavaliers defense is the best they've had in that time, and the strongest facet of the Virginia team. Coordinator Jon Tenuta's unit will play a major role in whether Virginia ends the slide.
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