The Virginia football team will be welcomed into ACC play Saturday against a North Carolina defense that features a physically imposing front line that brings down opposing quarterbacks prodigiously.
Through two games, the Tar Heels have tallied nine sacks, a mark that is higher than all but three FBS teams in the nation. Indeed, keeping sophomore quarterback Michael Rocco on his feet Saturday at Chapel Hill will be a primary task and a difficult challenge for Virginia’s offensive line, thought to be the team’s strongest unit.
The Cavaliers have allowed two sacks this season, and their offensive linemen have earned league recognition in each of the first two weeks of the season.
Senior center Anthony Mihota earned ACC offensive lineman of the week honors following his performance during Virginia’s 40-3 season-opening victory over FCS William & Mary. Junior left tackle Oday Aboushi earned the same award after recording 13 knockdown blocks in Saturday’s 34-31 win at Indiana.
Coach Mike London remarked Monday about the size and strength of North Carolina’s starting defensive linemen, only one of whom weighs less than 290 pounds. In fact, the Tar Heels’ four starting defensive linemen outweigh the starting defensive linemen of the team Virginia faced last week – Indiana – by an average of 22 pounds per player.
North Carolina’s front four are led by senior defensive end Quinton Coples (6-foot-6, 290 lbs.), who ranked No. 3 in the ACC in sacks last season and has tallied two this year. Coples registered 11 tackles (3 for a loss) and 1.5 sacks during last season’s 44-10 win at Virginia.
On the other edge, sophomore defensive end Kareem Martin (6-foot-6, 260 lbs.) has recorded two sacks of his own and ranks No. 2 on the team in tackles with 11.
In the middle, the Tar Heels offer senior defensive tackle Tydreke Powell (6-foot-3, 305 lbs.) and junior defensive tackle Sylvester Williams (6-foot-3, 315 lbs.). Powell ranks No. 4 on the team with nine tackles.
North Carolina also is bolstered by a linebacking corps that features senior Zach Brown and junior Kevin Reddick, two of the team’s top three tacklers. Brown has recorded 2.5 sacks this season. Last year against Virginia, Brown and Reddick combined to tally 19 tackles and two interceptions.
With ample talent among its front seven, the Tar Heels have held its two opponents thus far this season – FCS James Madison and Rutgers – to an average of 30 rushing yards per game. Rutgers managed one rushing yard during Saturday’s 24-22 loss at North Carolina.
Despite all of its success in the pass rush and against the run, the Tar Heels have yet to force a single turnover this season. London wouldn’t mind if that streak lasted at least one more week.
“If they could wait one more game (until forcing their first turnover), I’d appreciate that,” London said.