It’s October 15th and the Virginia Cavaliers are one win away from bowl eligibility. Raise your hand if you called that one. Put your hand down, we have an Honor Code around here. What this team has accomplished half-way through this 2017 season is remarkable. They are playing complete games, the defense is suffocating, and the offense is able to put points on the board when they have to. All of that culminated in a 20-14 victory over rival North Carolina Tar Heels, the Hoos’ first win over UNC since 2009. If you missed it, here is what we were watching for and here is how it played out.
- Hang on to the Football - This almost proved disastrous on all three occasions. Overall, Virginia fumbled the ball three times, recovering two and losing their first fumble of the season. The first fumble came on the ensuing drive after UNC took a 14-10 lead early in the third quarter. With Virginia driving, Kurt Benkert was sacked, but Jordan Ellis was right there to recover. The recovery was crucial, as a score by UNC at that juncture could have put the game out of reach. The second and third fumbles came late in the fourth quarter as Virginia was trying to run out the clock clinging to a 20-14 lead. Early in the drive Chris Sharp lost the ball, and UNC’s M.J. Stewart picked it up nothing but daylight between him and the end zone. But Virginia dodged a bullet as Stewart was out of bounds before the scoop and score. Then finally, with Virginia driving to put away the game, Benkert was sacked on a 3rd and 17 from the UNC 29. Not only were the Hoos not able to come up with the ball, North Carolina’s Cayson Collins returned the fumble 13 yards to his own 40. If Benkert hangs onto the football in that instance, he at least gives his kicker a chance to ice the game. Instead the Tar Heels got the ball in good field position primed to score. They survived another week, and though they finally lost a fumble, the rate at which they drop the ball in the first place is still alarming.
- Start Strong - Virginia out-gained the Tar Heels 173-75 in the first half, but could only build a 10-0 lead at the break. With the way the Cavalier defense was playing, that appeared to be enough of a cushion. But North Carolina came out strong in the third quarter utilizing two long runs by Michael Carter to take a 14-10 lead. While it wasn’t the worst start the Hoos could have imagined, they did squander an opportunity to score when an interception set up a drive starting right around mid-field. Against North Carolina, it didn’t cost them, but as the schedule gets tougher through October and into November, the Hoos can’t afford slow starts that could put them in a hole.
- Contain Surratt - 0-0 passing, and 0 yards on 0 carries. I’d say Virginia did their job containing UNC quarterback Chazz Surratt. Oh wait, he didn’t play? Nope, Brandon Harris got the start for North Carolina, and was held in check for most of the afternoon. He was 7-18 for 46 yards and three interceptions. But he was able to gain 50 yards on the ground (though sacks bring his rushing total down to 25), showing once again that teams with running quarterbacks can have success against the Hoos’ defense. It’s a game plan that teams seem to continue to exploit, and I can only shudder at how teams with potent running quarterbacks will be able to to run wild (read: Lamar Jackson).
The Hoos are back in action next week when they take on the Boston College Eagles. BC is fresh off an upset on the road at Louisville, so they will present a challenge for the Hoos as the home team looks to secure it’s sixth win and bowl eligibility. Stay with Streaking the Lawn all week for all of the Boston College coverage.