CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — No. 10 North Carolina is hosting Virginia on Saturday in search of a 7-0 start. The Tar Heels are coming off a win against Miami.
That game highlighted UNC’s season-long trend of making adjustments at halftime then coming out strong in the third quarter. UNC has outscored opponents 71-24 in the third quarter this season.
The Tar Heels have scored four touchdowns and a field goal on its first six drives after halftime. Virginia is coming in after an open week. Before that, the Cavaliers beat William & Mary for their first win of the season.
Heading into Saturday’s visit from Virginia, the Tar Heels (6-0, 3-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) are nearly tripling their opponents’ scoring output in the third quarter. That showed in last week’s win against a then-ranked Miami team and has highlighted one of the reasons they’re off to their best start in more than a quarter-century.
“They’re smart guys, their football IQ is pretty high,” offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey said of the players. “We’ve got a strong staff that we’re disciplined, I think, about understanding our responsibilities and having answers within our system. What you don’t want is a guy coming in and saying, ‘Hey, we need to do this’ but we’ve never done that before.”
The results have come on both sides, including defensive players being more experienced in Year 2 of coordinator Gene Chizik’s scheme.
North Carolina has outscored opponents 71-24 in the third quarter. That includes scoring four TDs and a field goal on initial second-half drives in six games. By comparison, the Tar Heels have allowed two TDs and one field goal to opponents on those drives.
Last weekend, Miami led 17-14 at halftime, outgaining UNC (273-218) and pressuring star quarterback Drake Maye with four sacks. But things changed quickly after halftime, first when Maye found Devontez Walker for a 56-yard touchdown less than 2 minutes into the second half.
Walker followed with a 33-yard scoring catch from Maye two drives later, then running back Omarion Hampton had a short TD catch to cap a 21-point third quarter.
Coach Mack Brown pointed to changes such as UNC using more quick throws, putting Maye on the move and also changing protections to manage Miami’s aggressive pass rushers.
Meanwhile, Miami lost two turnovers and UNC took a 182-32 edge in total offense.
“Some people are better at game plans than they are adjusting,” Brown said. “Some people get stubborn. I always felt like you need to be simple enough to know what to go to when what you’re doing’s not working. What’s next? And you need to go fast.”
That could set up a difficult scenario for the Cavaliers (1-5, 0-2 ACC). They’re coming off an open week following their first win against William & Mary to snap an eight-game skid, and they’ve been outscored 52-34 in the third quarter.
“We’re fighting, man,” coach Tony Elliott said. “These young men want to go to a bowl, right? That was the goal. Several guys on the roster have never been to a bowl game. They’re scrapping and fighting every single game.”
North Carolina is off to its best start since winning the first eight games in 1997, which was the final year of Brown’s first coaching tenure at UNC before leaving for Texas. And its only the second time since 1983 that UNC has reached 6-0.
The Cavaliers have used two starters at quarterback this year with Monmouth transfer Tony Muskett and freshman Anthony Colandrea. Muskett has missed time after suffering an injury to his non-throwing shoulder in the season-opening loss to Tennessee, but he’s listed atop this week’s depth chart.
PLAYMAKERS TO WATCH
Walker and Virginia’s Malik Washington offer playmaking potential at receiver, while Hampton and Virginia’s Perris Jones provide rushing production.
Walker’s three TD grabs against the Hurricanes came in this second game since winning a long eligibility battle with the NCAA after his transfer from Kent State. Hampton ran for 197 yards for his second huge day this year.
Washington leads the ACC with 668 yards receiving to go with five touchdowns, and his 111.3-yard average ranks eighth in the Bowl Subdivision ranks. Jones ran for a career-high 134 yards against William & Mary, the most by a Cavaliers tailback since 2018.
Virginia has blown double-digit leads in three of its five losses this season.
SOUTH’S OLDEST RIVALRY
Virginia and UNC are meeting for the 128th time in a series that was first played in 1892. Only the Wisconsin-Minnesota series (131 meetings) has been played more in FBS history.
Tenth-ranked North Carolina is looking for a 7-0 start when it hosts Virginia. The Tar Heels are off to their best start since winning the first eight games of the 1997 season in coach Mack Brown’s first tenure with the program.
UNC has scored at least 40 points in all three of its Atlantic Coast Conference wins so far. The Cavaliers are coming off their first win of the season against William & Mary before an open week.
Virginia is last in the ACC in scoring offense at 22.3 points per game.
Virginia (1-5, 0-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) at No. 10 North Carolina (6-0, 3-0), Saturday at 6:30 p.m. (The CW)
Line: North Carolina by 23 1/2, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.
Series record: The teams differ. UNC reports it leads 66-57-4, while Virginia lists UNC with a 65-58-4 record.
WHAT’S AT STAKE?
The Tar Heels are looking to extend their best start in 26 years by remaining unbeaten, which has them in strong contention to reach the ACC title game. The Cavaliers are emerging from an open week just trying to find something positive considering they’ve lost eight of nine ACC games as of Year 2 under Tony Elliott.
UNC’s defense against Virginia’s offense. The Tar Heels are clearly an improved unit in their second season under coordinator Gene Chizik. That included a dominating third-quarter performance that held Miami to 32 total yards with two takeaways last weekend. That unit has plenty of margin for error with the cover provided by quarterback Drake Maye and a high-powered offense, but UNC ranks in the middle third of the league in scoring defense (21.0) and total defense (359.2). As for the Cavaliers, they’re last in the ACC in scoring offense (22.3) and 12th in total offense (348.8).
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Virginia: WR Malik Washington. He leads the ACC with 668 yards receiving to go with five touchdowns, with his 111.3-yard average ranking eighth in the Bowl Subdivision.
UNC: WR Devontez “Tez” Walker. He had three touchdown catches in last week’s Miami game, showcasing the game-breaking downfield element he adds to the UNC offense. That big performance came in his first start with UNC after a long eligibility battle with the NCAA after his transfer from Kent State, so he’s fully integrated into Chip Lindsey’s attack now.
FACTS & FIGURES
Virginia earned its first win of the season in its last outing, beating William & Mary on Oct. 7. That was the second of Virginia’s four overall wins under Elliott that have come against Coastal Athletic Association teams from the Championship Subdivision. … The Tar Heels are off to their best start since winning the first eight games in 1997, which was Mack Brown’s final season of his first coaching tenure before going to Texas. … … UNC has yet to allow a first-quarter point through four home games. … The Tar Heels are eighth nationally by converting 52.7% of their third downs. … This is the first time UNC has opened ACC play with three straight games of 40-plus points. It is also only the first time that UNC has opened a season with six straight games of at least 30 points since 1914. … Virginia had won four straight meetings from 2017-20 before UNC won in each of the last two seasons. … After throwing four interceptions in his first three games, Maye has thrown eight touchdown passes with no interceptions to go with two rushing scores in three ACC games.