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Virginia vs. North Carolina Preview Article


CTG Junior Moderator
Virginia vs. North Carolina College Football Week 3 Picks

Virginia Cavaliers vs. North Carolina Tar Heels
Saturday, September 18, 2021 at 7:30 p.m. ET at Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill, North Carolina

The Odds

For Saturday's match-up against Virginia, the Tar Heels opened as 10-point favorites. For reasons that are blatantly obvious, as I will explain, that number has been bet down. It would be unsurprising to see the line come down further.

Going into the season, expectations were high for North Carolina largely because of Heisman hopeful Sam Howell.

Howell, though, is only one man and this one man couldn't deter Virginia Tech from achieving a 17-10 upset win in the season opener.

While UNC's one Power 5 game so far leads one in the direction of believing that it is overvalued by oddsmakers, Virginia's one Power 5 game compels one to believe that it is underrated.

Favored by 10.5 points against Illinois last week, the Hoos easily covered by winning 42-14.

UNC's Offensive Problems

Of course, only an impoverished analysis would rely solely on cherry-picking games and on scrutinizing a minuscule data sample.

Something I want to focus on is what both North Carolina games have shown that is so worrisome.

One main problem is the offensive line, which has struggled in both games.

Against Virginia Tech, UNC's lack of pass protection led Howell to have to repeatedly run for his life. Sacked six times and hurried four times, he struggled to find comfort let alone rhythm in the pocket.

Despite the score of the second game -- against measly Georgia State -- game footage revealed that the Tar Heel offensive line once again struggled.

While positional discontinuity (shuffling of positions) in the last minute may have contributed to the catastrophic season opener, the injury suffered by Josh Ezeudu may have contributed to further struggles against Georgia State.

Graded as the best offensive lineman in his team's season opener, Ezeudu's loss would further degrade Howell's hopes of enjoying comfort in the pocket.

Lack of run support is another problem for Howell. To be fair, the offseason departures of Javonte Williams and Michael Carter were crushing to UNC because they formed an extremely powerful and talented duo.

The current lack of ability in the backfield -- magnified by those two departures -- underscores the offensive line's struggle to create holes for the current Tar Heel running backs who are desperate for any kind of help.

Instead of relying on a standard ground game, UNC is relying on Howell to run. Howell, currently, is the Tar Heels' leading rusher.

Howell can run, but only in the sense that he is not an utter statue. He ran for 2.7 YPC against Virginia Tech largely because of one 17-yard run. He had never touched two YPC in either of his first two seasons. His current YPC is as high as it is because he blasted lowly Georgia State's defense.

The offensive line, then, in addition to hurting Howell's comfort as a passer, is damaging the offense's chances of generating balance via a competent ground game.

These offensive problems make the Tar Heels really hard to like because, in order to bet on the favorite, one obviously wants the favorite to be comfortable enough in its offense to score enough points to cover the spread.

Virginia's Newish Defense

In order to complicate matters for opposing offenses, Virginia has added versatility to its pass defense.

This versatility is important because it adds yet another layer of stress to the already overtaxed Howell.

In addition to the usual 3-4 and 2-4-5 schemes, the Hoos are also showing a 3-3-5.

Super-senior Nick Grant is able to participate in this scheme because of his versatility, which derives from his experience in playing multiple positions in the secondary.

His flexible role is a positive feature in this year's Virginia defense. Other important contributors include highlight reel-player Anthony Johnson, a transfer from Louisville who made a cool-looking interception last Saturday.

So far this season, Virginia has caused opposing quarterbacks to suffer ugly statistical performances. While Howell is obviously the biggest name that Virginia's secondary will have seen, his current and manifold struggles and UVA's increased defensive complexity must inspire great faith in the Hoo pass defense.

Brennan Armstrong

The odds, especially earlier in the season, are impacted by events that take place before this season.

They slowly will adjust to the new realities that unfold in the new season. One reason why the Hoos are undervalued by oddsmakers is Brennan Armstrong's massive improvement.

When he took over the starting job, Armstrong encountered a lot of pressure in Charlottesville because the preceding quarterback, Bryce Perkins, was very well-liked for, among other things, helping to finally upend the rival Hokies.

Last year, his accuracy was shaky. But this year, he has evolved. His completion percentage is 7.1-percent higher than Perkins' was in 2019 despite averaging far more YPA.

Again, the competition will bring those numbers down, but not so much. Video footage displays Armstrong's apparent ease while throwing downfield and both inside and outside the numbers.

While UNC will be Armstrong's toughest test, Armstrong will be the Tar Heels' toughest test because they've only faced Virginia Tech's Braxton Burmeister, a quarterback always known for being much stronger as a runner than a passer yet passed more efficiently against UNC than against Middle Tennessee State, and Georgia State's quarterback.

Best Bet: Cavaliers +9 at -110 with BetOnline


VC's Valentine
I agree the Unc oline been troublesome but it basically the same group as last year isnt is? They wernt that great in pass pro last year either so guess that not shocking. I think the biggest issue is missing those 2 rbs who playing on sundays now, for as much talk Howell gets I thought the run game really drove the bus for unc offense last year. Chandler hasn’t really been the answer although I’m not sure they have really given him enough opportunities either? Play calling was awful in the 1st game. Howell was the leading rusher last week. If your oline struggles with protection the best thing you could do for them is run the damn ball and let them assert themselves. heels havnt really established any kind of run game teams have to respect which makes it all that much tougher for the oline as defenses pinning their ears back.


VC's Valentine
When the line makes no sense I usually go in that direction. UNC shoud be favored by 6 at most and I would probably have it at 4.5.

gotcha, thanks for clarifying. I would say you might be underestimating how well thought of unc was coming into the season, whether it was warranted or not im not sure but think that is why line higher than you woulda expected. I have really just started on card so I dunno what perception is now for both teams but I’d guess unc still getting plenty of love at that number.

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