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Mizzell, Virginia prep for high-scoring North Carolina

Cavaliers’ Thorpe matches up against former team, QB Williams leads ‘explosive’ Tar Heel offense

<p>Senior receiver T.J. Thorpe transferred from North Carolina in the offseason after graduating from Chapel Hill last December. </p>

Senior receiver T.J. Thorpe transferred from North Carolina in the offseason after graduating from Chapel Hill last December.

After arguably its most important victory of the season, the Virginia football team will head down to Chapel Hill to try to upset North Carolina in the South’s Oldest Rivalry.

The Cavaliers (2-4, 1-1 ACC) are looking to keep up their winning ways after a triple-overtime victory over the Syracuse Orange. While Virginia’s offense struggled early on — particularly in a scoreless first quarter — it bounced back strongly, erasing a 10-point deficit and scoring three consecutive touchdowns through three overtimes to win the game.

“This week, [the game] finally went our way,” junior quarterback Matt Johns said. “We fought and fought and fought. There’s a lot of fight in this team.”

Virginia will have to continue to fight against a very challenging team Saturday in the Tar Heels (5-1, 2-0 ACC). Since falling to South Carolina 17-13 in its season opener, North Carolina has gone on a tear, outscoring opponents 230-87.

“When you look at it, they are probably one of the most — per-possession — explosive teams that are out there,” Virginia coach Mike London said.

Largely responsible for that offensive explosiveness is dual-threat senior quarterback Marquise Williams, who has 1,127 yards and nine touchdowns through the air and an additional 405 yards and five touchdowns on the ground this season. Against Wake Forest last week, Williams completed 14 of 20 passes for 282 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions, and he also ran for 59 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries.

“[Williams] is a very dynamic player for them, and we'll have to know where he's at at all times because everything starts from him,” London said.

The rushing capability for North Carolina does not stop with Williams, though. Virginia’s defense must also watch out for sophomore tailback Elijah Hood, who is fifth in the ACC in total rushing yards with 545 this season.

To spice up the story, senior wide receiver T.J. Thorpe, who transferred from Chapel Hill last winter, will play his former team for the first and only time in his college football career.

“I know he wants to play well and he wants to be a part of the game plan and things that [allow] him to perform,” London said.

So far, the Cavaliers and the Tar Heels have squared off 119 times dating back to their first meeting in 1892, making theirs the second-longest rivalry in FBS history. North Carolina leads the all-time series 61-54-4. However, against Virginia at home, the Tar Heels have enjoyed a more significant advantage — they have won 31 games, lost only 12 and tied three.

The Cavaliers will likely need to play an incredible game in order to get that 13th win at Chapel Hill. Part of their strategy could be a continuation of their winning formula against Syracuse — throw the ball to junior running back Taquan Mizzell.

“I believe ‘Smoke’ is probably maybe No. 1 in the nation in terms of running backs catching the ball,” London said.

With 409 receiving yards — 155 more yards than his rushing total on the season — Mizzell leads the nation’s running backs in receiving yards. Although a costly fumble Saturday gave Syracuse the lead, Mizzell contributed 58 yards on the ground with two touchdowns as well as 69 crucial receiving yards to will his team to victory.

“I was hoping that [the coaches] would believe in me and I knew I would play with a chip on my shoulder as long as they kept giving me the ball,” Mizzell said.

In addition to utilizing Mizzell more, the Cavalier defense must channel and maintain the energy it had in the shutout first quarter against Syracuse. Allowing an average of 36.2 points per game, the Cavaliers have the worst defense in the ACC — something that could prove to be detrimental against the Tar Heels, who have the highest-scoring offense in the conference with an average of 40.5 points per game.

North Carolina may be Virginia’s toughest ACC opponent this season. However, sophomore free safety Quin Blanding believes in his team.

“We gotta keep moving forward and keep pushing higher,” he said.

Kickoff against the Tar Heels is scheduled for 3:30 p.m Saturday.