North Carolina QB Darian Durant
vs. Virginia's defensive backs
The Cavaliers seem sure to put up points against a young UNC defense still recovering from the wreckage of last season. Durant, now as seemingly always the key to his team's upset hopes, has to make sure the Tar Heels match that firepower. That could be difficult, given Virginia's reputation as a burgeoning defensive power -- "They're probably one of the best I've seen," Durant told reporters this week -- but the secondary remains unproven. Against Temple last weekend, the Cavaliers' pass rush was so overwhelming that there were only occasional tests for young cornerbacks Tony Franklin, Marcus Hamilton and Philip Brown and safety Marquis Weeks, a former running back playing his first game on defense.
Give It Away Now
There was blame to go around at North Carolina after last weekend's 49-38 win over Division I-AA William & Mary, a dispiriting non-loss in which the Tar Heels trailed at the start of the fourth quarter and were booed off the field by their home fans at halftime. Turnovers were a major factor; UNC lost three fumbles, threw an interception and didn't create any takeaways. Virginia, on the other hand, got started toward a convincing, 44-14 win by forcing and recovering fumbles early in Temple's first two possessions.
After ranking near the bottom nationally in yardage and points allowed last season, UNC brought in veteran coach John Gutekunst to serve as defensive coordinator. Despite his new schemes, the Tar Heels allowed 442 yards last weekend, but Virginia Coach Al Groh said they look much better defensively on each individual play. William & Mary scored 10 of its 38 points on drives that began inside the UNC 5-yard line and fashioned its final touchdown drive of 88 yards against backup defenders.
The North Carolina rushing attack that produced 341 rushing yards and made stars of tailbacks Ronnie McGill and Jacque Lewis last weekend was keyed by center Jason Brown, one of the best offensive linemen in the ACC. An athletic, 312-pound senior, Brown will provide a challenge for Virginia senior nose tackle Andrew Hoffman, a three-year starter back with more power and better pass-rush moves. Hoffman and ends Chris Canty and Brennan Schmidt improved significantly over the offseason, Groh said.
Sea of Orange
The Tar Heels' lone ACC road win in the past two seasons came at Duke, and they have famously lost their past 11 games at Virginia. On this visit, they will have to contend with a capacity crowd of more than 60,000 fans juiced up for a home opener they have been anticipating for nine months. This week, the Cavaliers sold the last of their 39,100 season ticket packages, breaking the record of 36,225 set last year.
-- Jim Reedy