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Virginia vs. North Carolina: What the ‘Hoos need to focus on going into Week 9

If I were Bronco Mendenhall...

NCAA Football: Virginia at Duke Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

The Virginia Cavaliers looked solid last weekend as the team took one step closer to bowl eligibility with a road win over Duke. Obvious adjustments were made after the Miami game and, while there isn’t too much to complain about in terms of the players performance in Durham, there are a few things the team can still consider going into the Cavaliers’ Week 9 game against the North Carolina Tar Heels. This weekend could be the win the ‘Hoos need to go bowling again, but North Carolina shouldn’t be seen as a shoo-win in Scott Stadium.

Execution

We talked on STL about how Virginia didn’t put Duke away early enough despite their dominance. Well, my friends, North Carolina lingered against Syracuse last weekend too. In fact, they lingered much longer. The Orange didn’t put away the win until a double-overtime field goal finally finished the Tar Heels off.

Virginia only had 14 points after four trips to Duke’s side of the field, partly due to poor execution. Kicker Brian Delaney missed two field goals, which didn’t help. The Tar Heels took advantage of the similar struggles Syracuse was dealing with last week, so Virginia should focus on more effectively turning those deep downs into points, especially when they’re in the red zone.

The team needs to play smart offensively and executive plays early, while the defense needs to continue to play with strength to stifle North Carolina’s offense on the other side of things. Tar Heels quarterback Nathan Elliot threw for 321 yards and two touchdowns against the Orange, while running back Antonio Williams led the ground game with 116 yards and a TD of his own. Carolina’s ability to execute shouldn’t be overlooked either.

Diversifying Perkins playbook

North Carolina had Syracuse quarterback Eric Dungey figured out from the start. Virginia should expect that the Tar Heels will be just as prepared for quarterback Bryce Perkins. The Tar Heels defense was so all over Dungey (forced fumbles, outscoring the Orange, a huge sack) that ‘Cuse pulled their senior starter and put freshman QB Tommy DeVito in, who had thrown 34 passes and one touchdown all season. Carolina was clearly confused by the decision, and the Orange regained control as a result.

It’s no secret that Perkins is Virginia’s most potent offensive weapon. He’s a talented playmaker and a powerful threat on the ground himself. But he’s also not that hard to figure out – in much-too-oversimplified-terms: he runs the ball as soon as he feels threatened, and prefers the run game to passing. While North Carolina has plenty of weaknesses the Cavaliers can exploit, they always understand who they’re playing, and they did it the best they have all season last weekend at Syracuse. Bronco Mendenhall shouldn’t expect that to stop when the Tar Heels travel to Scott Stadium, so diversifying Perkins playbook a little could be key to surprising Carolina’s defense.

Not underestimating North Carolina

The Tar Heels have had a pretty bad season. They’re 1-5 this season and have lost three consecutive games going into this weekend – but they only lost to Virginia Tech by three points two games ago, and took Syracuse into double overtime last weekend. North Carolina continues to challenge unsuspecting opponents, which means Virginia shouldn’t take this weekends ACC clash lightly.

Tech and Syracuse have both had strong seasons and still struggled against Carolina. Whether this means giving PK Brian Delaney a few extra reps in practice after a hot-and-cold performance last week in case the team needs to secure some extra points, or preparing the defense like we’re playing Clemson – none of it could hurt this week as Virginia seeks to secure Bowl Eligibility for the second consecutive season.