UNC facing UVa, remembering ECU
Riding a two-game win streak, North Carolina comes into Saturday’s home game as a heavy favorite against Virginia, which has lost its last seven games against FBS opponents.
Still, UNC coach Larry Fedora hopes that his team’s recent four-game losing streak has taught it not take anyone lightly.
“I think this team has become mature enough to understand the pitfalls of a lack of focus or worrying about what else is going on out there,” Fedora said. “Now you’ve got people who want to pat you on the back. If you do, you better watch out.”
UNC (3-5, 2-3) has beaten Virginia three straight times by an average of 23 points and is a two-touchdown favorite on Saturday (12:30 p.m., WRAL). But the Tar Heels were also supposed to win big over East Carolina at Kenan Stadium earlier this season, and the Pirates wound up with a 55-31 victory.
“(Virginia’s) 2-7 but we don’t really want to look at that because the same thing can happen to us that happened in the ECU game,” senior cornerback Jabari Price said. “When you’re projected to win, those are the hardest ones to win. Everyone’s expecting you to win, so we have to really stay focused and block out all that positive stuff.”
Price said focusing became easier after watching film of the Cavaliers (2-7, 0-5), who have kept a lot of games close during their current six-game losing streak. Virginia lost by one against Maryland, trailed by three with two minutes left against Georgia Tech and led by 15 at the half against Duke.
“It’s kind of hard to look past them,” Price said. “When you put the tape on like I did yesterday, you’re like, ‘Dang, how are they 2-7?’ The quarterback can really run and he has some playmakers on the outside, so it makes you wonder how they’re really 2-7.”
With UNC’s remaining schedule, it’s hard not to think about bowl projections. If the Tar Heels beat Virginia, Pittsburgh (4-4) and FBS-level Old Dominion, it can even become bowl eligible before its season finale against Duke. But that line of thinking is what the Tar Heels are trying to avoid this week.
“We put ourselves in a big hole early in the year by losing all those games, so now you have to really win out if you want to go to a bowl game,” senior left tackle James Hurst said. “Our mantra right now is 1-0, just be 1-0 every week. That’s all you can focus on, and that’s all you can control. I think that’s doing a good job of keeping everyone focused on the game at hand.”
UNC quarterbacks Bryn Renner and Marquise Williams both left the game briefly in the third quarter against N.C. State — Renner to have his left shoulder popped back into place, and Williams to take a concussion test (which he passed) after getting what he described as a “stinger” from a helmet-to-helmet hit.
“They’re both tough kids,” Fedora said. “Both of them played after they got some pretty tough hits in there. They both came back, both played, and I thought they both played well after they came back in, too. It wasn’t like they just went back out there. They both did a nice job.”
But Fedora said he would not provide an update on either player’s status for Saturday. And for the first time this season, Renner did not appear at his weekly Monday press availability
Renner missed a start three weeks ago against Virginia Tech with a left foot injury. Though true freshman Mitch Trubisky is listed third on the depth chart, Fedora said that redshirt freshman Kanler Coker would have played against the Wolfpack if Renner and Williams were both unavailable.
A critical play in Saturday’s win was when UNC stopped N.C. State on a fake punt at the Wolfpack 30-yard line, leading to a Tar Heel touchdown.
Fedora said it was the same fake punt that Northern Illinois — N.C. State coach Dave Doeren’s former team — ran against Florida State in the 2013 Orange Bowl. In fact, the Tar Heels were prepared to stop all three fakes that NIU tried last season.
“They recognized it when they saw the formation and they executed,” Fedora said. “They did a very nice job.”
UNC’s first-ever ACC game at Pitt on Nov. 16 will take place at 12:30 p.m. and will be televised by the ACC Network (locally on WRAL), the conference announced Monday.
It will mark the Tar Heels’ sixth appearance this season in the ACC Network’s 12:30 p.m. time slot, and the seventh time in eight Saturday games that UNC will kickoff at noon or 12:30 p.m.