Mack Brown can be excused if he doesn’t immediately recognize Scott Stadium when he brings his North Carolina football team there Saturday night.
And that’s not all because of attendance restrictions resulting from the coronavirus.
For one thing, it has been 24 years since Brown brought his No. 6-ranked Tar Heels team to Charlottesville, where then-No. 24 UVa knocked off the Tar Heels 20-17.
The Cavaliers, then coached by George Welsh, had trailed 17-3 before finishing the game with a 17-0 run, capped by a 32-yard Rafael Garcia field goal with 39 seconds left.
Brown would coach one more season at UNC before accepting the head-coaching job at Texas following the 1997 regular season.
He knows current UVa coach Bronco Mendenhall well.
“I coached against him at Brigham Young, twice when we were at Texas and then last year here,” Brown said during a Zoom session with media this past week.
“Bronco is, once again, a dear friend of mine. We were on the AFCA board together for many years. He’s probably the most upbeat person I’ve ever been around. He stays up and picks those [UVa] kids up. They got a tough draw on schedules.”
Virginia (1-4, 1-4 ACC) opened this season with a 38-20 victory over visiting Duke and subsequently has lost four games in a row, three on the road, including a 19-14 loss to No. 11 Miami in the Cavaliers’ last outing.
The Tar Heels (4-1, 4-1) suffered their lone loss Oct. 17 in a 31-28 decision at Florida State. One week later, Carolina whipped North Carolina State 48-21 in Chapel Hill.
The Wolfpack handed UVa one of its worst losses, a 38-21 decision Oct. 10 at Scott Stadium.
That was the game in which UVa quarterback Brennan Armstrong took a blow to the head before halftime and was still in concussion protocol and unable to play Oct. 17 at Wake Forest, where the Deacons pulled out a 40-23 victory.
Armstrong completed 16 of 30 passes for 181 yards and two touchdowns at Miami, where he also rushed for 91 yards, which led both teams.
“Watching from the side [at Wake Forest] was really difficult for me,” Armstrong said on Mendenhall’s weekly radio show. “The one thing I thought about was not to take anything for granted.”
Mendenhall said, “Brennan felt good but I felt better. We’re a different team. Brennan is a special leader, a special player. I thought he played really, really well [at Miami]. I thought he played free, I thought he played aggressive [and] I thought he made good decisions.”
Brown hasn’t forgotten last year’s game at North Carolina, where the Cavaliers prevailed 38-31 as quarterback Bryce Perkins threw three touchdowns, rushed for two TDs and accounted for 490 yards in total offense.
“We haven’t stopped running quarterbacks,” said Brown, whose Tar Heels were victimized by Florida State quarterback Jordan Travis, who rushed for 107 yards and two TDs against Carolina. “Virginia’s going to run their quarterback. Period.”
The game will be the first of three straight home games for the Cavaliers.
“Anybody saying we’re going to go up there and kill Virginia, they don’t know much about football No. 1,” Brown said, “and they sure don’t know much about Virginia. They’ve got eight starters back on the defense from last year that won the Coastal.”
It remains to be seen if safety Joey Blount returns to full strength after missing two of the last three games. Another starting defensive back, Brenton Nelson, missed the Miami game.
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