Virginia vs. North Carolina: a breakdown

Cavaliers seek elusive win in South’s Oldest Rivalry


Senior running back Taquan Mizzell will likely need a big game Saturday for Virginia to upset the No. 22 Tar Heels.

Cavalier Daily

Three keys to a Cavalier victory

Challenge weak Carolina run defense

The Tar Heels rank 106th in rushing defense out of 128 total FBS teams. Defensive coordinator Gene Chizik described the unit as “soft” in late September, as North Carolina has allowed 1,512 yards on the ground — 216 per game — and 19 rushing touchdowns this season. Virginia has to expose this weakness of their opponent.

Avoid the offensive dry spell

Against Connecticut, Central Michigan and most recently Pittsburgh, Virginia’s offense could not sustain drives, resulting in those drawn out stretches of scoreless play. But North Carolina is not going to play a full 20 minutes without putting up any points. The Cavaliers must be able to bounce back from an empty series with a score.

Force (and recover) an early fumble

Junior quarterback Mitch Trubisky has thrown only two interceptions in 254 total attempts. But Tar Heel ball carriers, including Trubisky, have coughed up the football nine times, losing six to the opposing defense. If Micah Kiser or Jordan Mack could force one early for a teammate to recover, that would set the tone for the rest of the game.

Virginia players to watch

Taquan Mizzell

Coming off an impressive game last week in which he rushed for 95 yards on 12 carries and added three receptions for 15 yards, Mizzell deserves to be a focal point of the offense Saturday against North Carolina’s porous run defense. Behind smart blocking, he and fellow senior back Albert Reid could have a field day.

Kurt Benkert

His toss was intercepted and taken back, and from then on Benkert could not deliver. Maybe the Panthers neutralized him with creative blitz packages and confident coverage. Or maybe his timid mindset disrupted his mechanics. Regardless, Benkert must be sharp against North Carolina’s capable pass defense, which has allowed just 201 yards per game.

Micah Kiser

The junior linebacker ranks sixth in the nation in tackles with 67 — 11.2 per game — and is also tied for sixth in forced fumbles with three. When the Blue Devils were rallying late against Virginia Oct. 1, an energized Kiser dominated the final 10 minutes. The Cavaliers need that Kiser for 60 minutes this Saturday.

North Carolina players to watch

Mitch Trubisky

After the loss of All-ACC second teamer Marquise Williams to graduation, the North Carolina faithful weren’t all too worried. In nine 2015 games, then-sophomore Mitch Trubisky completed 85.1 percent of his passes for six touchdowns. This season, Trubisky has also excelled, tossing for 15 touchdowns to just two interceptions.

Ryan Switzer

A 2015 First Team All-America selection for the “all-purpose” position, Switzer remains dangerous in the North Carolina passing game and as a punt returner. So far this 2016 season, the senior has caught 58 passes for 606 yards and three touchdowns. Switzer should be Trubisky’s go-to receiver, no matter the situation.

M.J. Stewart

Stewart and senior Des Lawrence, both of whom received All-ACC second team honors last season, make up an impressive cornerback tandem for the Tar Heels. The junior Stewart has arguably put together a better start to the 2016 season numbers-wise. Stewart enters Saturday’s game with 36 tackles, two forced fumbles and seven passes defended.


MatchupJacob Season: 79-25 Week 7: (12-3)Robert Season: 72-32 Week 7: (11-4)Grant Season: 81-23 Week 7: (12-3)Mariel Season: 80-24 Week 7: (10-5)
Miami at Virginia TechMiamiMiamiVirginia TechMiami
NC State at (7) LouisvilleLouisvilleLouisvilleLouisvilleLouisville
Syracuse at Boston CollegeSyracuseSyracuseSyracuseSyracuse
Harvard at PrincetonHarvardHarvardHarvardHarvard
Colorado at StanfordColoradoStanfordStanfordStanford
(16) Oklahoma at Texas TechOklahomaOklahomaOklahomaOklahoma
TCU at (12) West VirginiaWest VirginiaWest VirginiaWest VirginiaWest Virginia
(10) Wisconsin at IowaWisconsinWisconsinWisconsinWisconsin
BYU at (14) Boise StateBoise StateBoise StateBoise StateBoise State
Memphis at (24) NavyNavyNavyNavyNavy
(23) Ole Miss at (25) LSULSUOle MissOle MissLSU
(2) Ohio State at Penn StateOhio StateOhio StateOhio StateOhio State
(17) Arkansas at (21) AuburnAuburnArkansasAuburnAuburn
(6) Texas A&M at (1) AlabamaAlabamaAlabamaAlabamaAlabama
(22) North Carolina at VirginiaNorth CarolinaNorth CarolinaVirginiaNorth Carolina

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