UNC hopes keep pace in ACC's division race vs. Virginia
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) North Carolina rebounded with a much-needed victory last week at Miami and the No. 22 Tar Heels look to keep pace in the ACC Coastal Division title race when they visit longtime rival Virginia on Saturday.
The Tar Heels (5-2, 3-1 ACC) are tied with Virginia Tech atop the division standings after the Hokies' victory against the Hurricanes on Thursday night . North Carolina cannot afford another league setback if it hopes to win the division with its only loss a 34-3 against the Hokies.
Virginia (2-4, 1-1), in its first year under coach Bronco Mendenhall, has yet to beat the Tar Heels since Larry Fedora became coach five years ago, losing all four previous meetings, and six straight in the series.
Cavaliers quarterback Kirk Benkert sees progress in the team every week. He pointed to a 28-point first half last weekend in a loss to Pittsburgh as proof, but said working to keep the momentum going all game is sometimes a challenge.
''It's good that we had a lot of success in the first half, but we need to sustain it,'' he said. ''You score 28 points in the first half and you think, well, you're going to double it by the end of the game. Teams make adjustments and we just needed to execute what was called better. We just didn't do that in the second half.''
The Tar Heels have won eight consecutive true road games, including two straight in Charlottesville. Two years ago, then-backup quarterback Mitch Trubisky threw a game-winning 16-yard touchdown pass in a 28-27 victory.
Trubisky now is the Tar Heels' starter, and one of the ACC's most efficient passers with 15 touchdowns and just two interceptions. He is looking forward to hostile of Cavaliers faithful.
''I think we like playing on the road. I think we like either getting booed or people rooting against us,'' he said. ''I don't know, being the enemy? I think it gives us energy and I think we just feed off it honestly.''
Two weeks before winning at Miami, the Tar Heels also won at No. 13 Florida State, 37-35 .
Some other things to watch when North Carolina visits Virginia:
SWITZER WATCH: Ryan Switzer stands only 5-foot-10, but the Tar Heels' top receiver has been a pass-catching machine of late. In his last four games, he's caught 41 passes. With North Carolina deep threat Mack Hollins out for the season with a shoulder injury, Trubisky may look his way even more. Hollins also was North Carolina special teams captain, and finding replacements in those roles may be equally important for UNC.
SKILL GUYS: Virginia needs to do a better job of putting its skill players in position to make things happen. Taquan Mizzell had only 15 touches (12 runs, three receptions) in the 45-31 loss to Pitt , and WR Olamide Zaccheaus had just three receptions, but for 83 yards. Benkert threw deep all day against the Panthers, but would do well to look to complete shorter passes to his best players and see if they can turn them into long gainers.
ROAD SUCCESS: UNC hasn't lost a game on an opponent's home field since November 2014. The eight-game run is tied for fourth nationally behind only No. 2 Ohio State (20), No. 1 Alabama (10) and Iowa (nine). ''I think this team is built tough,'' safety Donnie Miles said of the road success.
SMOOTH SAILING? The Tar Heels went 2-1 in their grueling part of the schedule, with the road wins at Florida State and Miami sandwiched around the home loss to the Hokies. They should be favored in all their remaining games: at home against Georgia Tech, at Duke, at home against The Citadel and North Carolina State. Pittsburgh also has only one Coastal Division loss, but it came against the Tar Heels , giving UNC the tiebreaker in that scenario.
TURNOVERS: Both teams have struggled to force turnovers, and in a game like this, especially for undermanned Virginia, takeaways can be a great equalizer and even turn a game around in the blink of an eye.
AP sports writer Aaron Beard contributed from Chapel Hill. N.C.
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