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3 players, 2 matchups and 1 prediction for Virginia football at UNC

Previewing Saturday’s matchup against #10 North Carolina.

William & Mary v Virginia Photo by Ryan M. Kelly/Getty Images

The Virginia Cavaliers’ bye week was seemingly perfectly placed this season, as the ‘Hoos came into the bye week riding high after their first win in a while. This has given them a chance to get healthy (or healthier anyway), and to focus on things they’ve gotten right and things they’ve gotten wrong.

This week, the Wahoos travel to face a top-ten team in UNC. The Heels are coming off a 41-31 win over Miami, which was really not that close. The Heels scored 21 unanswered in the third quarter to take over the game. The Heels are 6-0 and their closest game was an overtime win over App State.

Outside of a four game winning streak (2017-20) under Bronco Mendenhall, the Wahoos have not beaten UNC since 2009 under Al Groh. Mike London never beat the Heels and though close, last year’s team wasn’t able to make enough plays to pull off the home win.

The Tar Heels are favored by 24 points, give or take. That’s a lot. It would be a pretty big upset for Virginia to win this game on the road.

Game Time: Saturday, October 21, 6:30PM Eastern
TV: The CW
Streaming: None

Three Players to Watch

QB Drake Maye

Maye had a rushing TD and two passing TD in last year’s game. True dual threat guy. He threw for 4300 yards and rushed for another 700.

There is a reason why he is projected as a top five pick in this year’s NFL Draft.

This is actually a better catch than throw, as it’s a little under thrown. It’s also thrown 50 yards on the run off one foot.

Maye hasn’t actually run the ball as much this year as he did last. He’s obviously still capable.

The only way to stop Maye is to get pressure in his face. He’s been sacked multiple times in five straight games. The Hoos have to be able to generate some pressure, but even against William and Mary, they really couldn’t. If Maye has time to sit back in the pocket, he will pick the defense apart.

WR Devontez Walker

Perhaps not surprisingly, with a Heisman candidate at QB, UNC was able to snag one of the top WR transfers in the country. Walker had over 900 yards and 11 TDs last year at Kent State.

He’s been fighting with the NCAA over his eligibility since the beginning of the season. He was finally declared eligible two weeks ago and he already has 12 catches for 175 yards and 3 TDs. He also has 2 carries for 19 yards.

Yes, that’s some throw from Maye. It’s also a great catch. Walker can play the short game, making plays with the ball, and he can get the deep ball. He’s not even fully integrated into the offense and he might’ve been the best player on the field against Miami.

LB Cedric Gray

Yes, UNC has a defense as well. But while their offense ranks 8th in the country, the defense is 54th. Last year’s defense was 115th though, so this is a big step up.

They’ve improved dramatically. From last year to this, the team’s rank nationally in sacks has dropped from 127th to 35th. Turnovers forced has gone from 92 to 20. And third-down defense has gone from 92 to 42. That really explains why this team is undefeated and ranked in the top 10.

It is largely the same personnel, and it is the same coaching staff. Nothing dramatic has changed, they’re just playing better.

That’s Gray with the interception against Miami. He’s also got three pass deflections, plus he leads the team in tackles and he’s second in sacks and TFLs. He was also first team All-ACC last season.

UNC plays a 3-3-5, with Gray in the middle. The three LBs are 1-2-3 on the team in tackles, and 1-2-4 in TFLs. These guys are all playmakers and will be around the ball and in the backfield all game long.

Two Key Matchups

Virginia OL vs North Carolina DL

For the first time this season, Virginia was able to generate a rushing game. The team rushed for 221 yards on the day, but 139 of that came in the second half. The bigger Virginia OL wore down the W&M defensive front and allowed Perris Jones to run wild in the second half.

But the OL was still far from good.

This is just a guy beating his man straight up. McKale Boley had a poor outing, but his pass blocking is usually much better than this. Four sacks from William and Mary. With as aggressive as UNC’s defense has been, Tony Muskett will be under pressure all game.

Virginia WRs vs North Carolina Secondary

Malik Washington continues to impress as the number one threat for the Virginia offense. Washington has 45% of the teams’ receiving yards. He is 11th in the country in receptions and 8th in yards. And he’s doing this for the 98th ranked offense in the country.

Led by those three LBs, the UNC defense has been hounding opposing QBs, generating sacks and turnovers. That type of aggressive defense can also be susceptible to big plays.

I’m not sure Tony Muskett can make this throw, but this is what can happen when you play man coverage downfield. It’s a double move and he loses his man. Great catch too.

UNC’s offense is very good. They’re gonna score. Any chance Virginia has in this game is to score with them and get a turnover or two. Since we know they can’t run the ball, that means hitting some plays in the passing game.

One Prediction

In The South’s Oldest Rivalry, things like rankings and record don’t always matter. But UNC looks like a 6-0 team and Virginia looks like a 1-5 team and rivalries can’t change that.

Virginia hasn’t looked good, outside of brief stretches. Even the win over William and Mary was unimpressive. Meanwhile, UNC has impressive win after impressive win. Drake Maye is a top-5 pick in this season’s NFL draft. There is a large gap in talent all over the field between these two teams.

On paper, this UNC team is better than the Tennessee team Virginia couldn’t hang with. The Hoos have improved since then, but UNC is legit very good. There’s a reason they are huge favorites.

Prediction: Tar Heels 49, Virginia 21