The Virginia football team heads to Chapel Hill hungry for its first 3-0 start since 2005 and a winning beginning to ACC play against North Carolina.
The Cavaliers (2-0, 0-0 ACC) face the Tar Heels one week after fending off a feisty Indiana squad last weekend for their first road win with coach Mike London.
Virginia tallied 11 points during the game's final 96 seconds for a furious comeback which began with an impressive 15-play touchdown drive and two-point conversion to tie the game at 31.
"There was the efficiency of operating - very seldom do you see 15-play drives," London said. "Now we just have to keep doing that - beginning of the game, the middle of the game, third quarter, early in the fourth quarter. That's what we are trying to keep going."
Senior kicker Robert Randolph nailed a field goal as time expired to clinch a 34-31 win, but the Cavaliers aren't the only team riding a wave of momentum into its ACC opener. The Tar Heels (2-0, 0-0 ACC) edged Rutgers 24-22 for a tough home win last weekend.
Led by sophomore quarterback Bryn Renner, North Carolina epitomizes offensive efficiency. During his first full season as the starter, Renner has already thrown for 550 yards with an 85.7 completion percentage.
"We looked at the stat, through the first two games he's 42-of-49, so he's a good quarterback," junior linebacker Steve Greer said.
Against the Scarlet Knights, however, Renner's usually dart-like throws looked decidedly human at times. Six of his seven incomplete passes this season came during last weekend's game, and three of those were intercepted. Renner evidently can be rattled under center, but shutting down the most accurate passer in the country remains a daunting task for the Cavaliers.
"He puts it where his guys can catch the ball, so we need to tighten up our coverage and throw some coverage where it won't be easier to read our defense," Greer said.
Containing that aerial attack is only half the battle, though, as North Carolina's defense will be Virginia's toughest challenge to date. The Tar Heels rank No. 32 in the nation in points allowed and boast great size and speed at all positions. Senior defensive end Quinton Coples is just one of many potential early-round NFL Draft prospects anchoring the daunting defense.
"They give up 16 points a game, 30 yards rushing - which is phenomenal - 197 yards passing and under 300 yards total offense," London said. "That's a pretty good defense right there if you're doing things like that."
Sophomore quarterback Michael Rocco must play up to his potential if Virginia hopes to continue their undefeated run, especially after his right arm failed to find the end zone against the Hoosiers until a late two-point toss to junior tight end Paul Freedman. His 62.1 completion percentage pales in comparison to Renner's, but Rocco managed to elevate his play with the Indiana game on the line.
Between Rocco's growing confidence and a burgeoning backfield tandem of freshman tailback Kevin Parks and junior tailback Perry Jones, Virginia has an opportunity to avenge its dismal home defeat against the Tar Heels in 2010. Last year, North Carolina crushed Virginia 44-10 for its first win in Charlottesville since 1981. During that loss Virginia turned the ball over five times, but the team hopes that playing mistake-free ball during Saturday's rematch will produce not only a win but also some conference recognition.
"We've accomplished the goal of winning the first - in a long time - away game," London said. "Now you ask about the significance of this game - it's a conference game and it's an away opponent. All of the games have significance now"