Virginia took the field at Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill hoping to avenge last year's home loss, UNC's first victory in Charlottesville since 1981. Sloppiness and costly errors kept the Hoos from doing so, as the team stumbled to a 28-17 defeat. Bright spots could be extracted from tonight's effort against a solid Tar Heel squad, but they were not enough to overcome the tough breaks, mental mistakes, and inexperience that have plagued the team this year. Some postgame thoughts:
Unforced errors: Our preview earlier this week mapped out an important key to victory: play a clean game. In the first half, UVA's unsuccessful drives were stopped by a holding penalty, missed FG, turnover on downs, and fumble on a botched snap, the latter 3 all occurring inside UNC's 40. All inhibited potential chances to put points on the board in a game where a large margin for error didn't exist. Six penalties for 58 yards killed drives and brought back a big play or two. UNC, which previously had one of the NCAA's poorest turnover differentials, forced two interceptions and a fumble (the picks admittedly in garbage time). Dropped passes also plagued the receivers. In a tough ACC road game, that type of sloppy play won't often result in a win.
Defensive lapses: The other major area of concern was the defense. Though Carolina scored a manageable 28 points, they seemed to be able to move the ball at will when necessary. Jeff White noted that in second quarter alone, UVA gave up gains of 19, 19, 15, 18, 13, 15 and 9 yards. Carolina picked up 222 yards on the ground and had lots of success running off-tackle and on outside tosses. These led to UNC scoring drives of 5 plays (74 yards), 4 plays (62 yards) and 6 plays (88 yards). While we figured inconsistency would be an issue with a young team, the unit has to find a way to contain big plays.
No TV: For the second week in a row, the game was not watchable in Charlottesville (for us poor souls without premium sports packages). Managing mobs of people at Boylan Heights or finding....questionable...websites aren't terrible ways to watch, but shouldn't UVA students have free and easy ways to watch road games?
Offensive promise?: Mike Rocco's stats don't appear particularly gaudy (22-37, 287 yards, 1 TD / 2 INTs)...but he played a very good game overall. Though the coaching staff has had the propensity to limit his game, he looked good on some downfield passes, seemed more comfortable in the pocket, and made good reads. Besides the bobbled snap that turned into a lost fumble, he played a pretty mistake-free game (both interceptions came with under 4 minutes to go when the outcome was all but assured). Hopefully this growth continues; it will also be interesting to see if Mike London and Bill Lazor open up the playbook for him a bit. The running game also continued to impress; KP Parks led the way with 14 rushes for 98 yards.
The Watford file: David Watford was under center for a drive in the second quarter. He didn't look horrible...but didn't perform great either, missing on 3 of his 4 pass attempts. the last resulting in a turnover on downs. Watford's potential and talent are exciting, but I don't think that London has really decided upon how he wants to use them. Changing quarterbacks when Rocco is in a rhythm will be questioned, though there isn't much of an alternative if we want to get Watford into the game. I wouldn't mind more of a Wildcat (Hoocat) look, but we'll see what London decides moving forward.
What it means: Losing an ACC game sucks. Losing a rivalry game sucks. Losing to Carolina sucks. Carolina sucks. I take solace in the fact that this game was never part of my mental "Roadmap to Six Wins"...a win would have been great, but a loss not unexpected. The good part about losing a sloppily played game is that the team has specific areas to focus and improve on this week in practice, and I expect the Hoos to come out next week better and more prepared to take on Southern Miss.