CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Mack Brown was asked after Saturday’s game how his running game, which was spearheaded by a banged-up offensive line, went from grinding out 347 rushing yards in its first two games combined to cruising to 392 yards against Virginia.
“I got no clue,” Brown said. “This business is crazy. I sit there and watch games all day and see scores that are just impossible, can’t happen.”
Surprise was a common feeling late Saturday night in Chapel Hill and across the ACC this weekend.
While Brown was pleasantly surprised, UVa was left wondering why in the world its defense looked like something you’d expect it to field in 2016 during head coach Bronco Mendenhall’s first season. The Cavaliers (2-1, 0-1 ACC) allowed 59 points and 699 yards, wasting a historic passing performance from Brennan Armstrong in their 59-39 defeat.
“Man, there really wasn’t anything stopped well,” Mendenhall said. “The giant plays through the pass game then took our focus off the run game a little bit, but the run execution, there wasn’t a play played that I thought was really well fit or executed.”
The performance comes after UVa started the season with a shutout of William and Mary and a 42-14 win over Illinois. Virginia’s defense seemed ready to turn a corner after struggles in 2020.
Now, UVa’s group seeks answers following a shockingly bad showing.
“Just a poor performance from beginning to end,” Mendenhall said.
On the plus side for Virginia, the ACC Coastal Division seems poised for a significant amount of chaos again this season. Virginia Tech, Miami and Pittsburgh all lost nonconference games Saturday and both the Hurricanes and Panthers were favored in their disappointing defeats. Pitt lost to a MAC foe, while Miami was blown out at home by Michigan State.
Virginia isn’t out of the Coastal picture, but the Cavaliers need significantly better play defensively to start winning ACC games. Allowing nearly 700 yards of offense is a recipe for disaster, and the team needed a school-record 554 passing yards from Brennan Armstrong just to keep the game competitive.
“I was surprised. Definitely things were off,” linebacker Nick Jackson said. “We gotta get in the film room. We gotta fix it.”
The necessary defensive fixes range from poor run fits to blown coverages to missed tackles. UVa has its work cut out for it this week, and early week film sessions likely won’t be enjoyable for the team’s defense. Coaches have a lengthy list of mistakes to use as teaching points.
An alarming defensive showing was matched with some stubbornness by the team’s players about the team’s ability and future. Jackson and company hardly believe the loss dooms the team’s season, and they believe fixes are possible.
Jackson went as far as saying he felt Virginia should’ve won the game.
“We just got beat on the road in a game we should’ve won, in my opinion,” Jackson said. “Now we gotta bounce back and we gotta come out next week and we gotta perform.”
The margin for error, if UVa wants to make any run at the Coastal Division title, is dramatically reduced after the defeat. UVa is 0-1 in the ACC with its one loss coming to the preseason favorite to win the Coastal.
Friday’s game against Wake Forest carries significant weight, as does the team’s Thursday night matchup at Miami the following week. Taking a pair of ACC losses in September wouldn’t bode well for the team’s chances of winning the divisional title.
“There’s no time to feel sorry or do anything other than reflect, learn, recommit and play better,” Mendenhall said. “We play Friday night and then we play on a Thursday night, so the clock’s ticking. It’s a fast turnaround.”
North Carolina 59, UVa 39
UNC—Downs 59 pass from Howell (Atkins kick), 10:45.
UNC—Downs 37 pass from Howell (Atkins kick), 7:00.
UVA—Taulapapa 1 run (Duenkel kick), 2:27.
UNC—K.Brown 75 pass from Howell (Atkins kick), 2:16.
UNC—FG Atkins 36, 10:47.
UVA—Wicks 40 pass from Armstrong (Duenkel kick), 9:13.
UVA—Woods 1 pass from Armstrong (Duenkel kick), 2:54.
UVA—Kemp 21 pass from Armstrong (Duenkel kick), :06.
UNC—Walston 5 pass from Howell (Atkins kick), 12:50.
UNC—Hood 5 run (Atkins kick), 7:26.
UVA—FG Duenkel 34, 4:57.
UNC—Chandler 5 run (Atkins kick), 1:40.
UNC—Morales 3 pass from Howell (Atkins kick), 12:13.
UVA—Kemp 9 pass from Armstrong (Woods pass from Armstrong), 7:11.
UNC—Chandler 7 run (Atkins kick), 2:57.
Time of Possession;31:41;28:19
RUSHING—Virginia, Rodriguez 3-14, Hollins 4-13, Thompson 3-11, Darrington 2-4, Taulapapa 2-(minus 2), Armstrong 8-(minus 16). North Carolina, Chandler 20-198, Howell 15-112, Hood 9-66, Henderson 3-16.
PASSING—Virginia, Armstrong 39-54-1-554, Wicks 0-1-0-0, Thompson 1-2-0-(minus 1). North Carolina, Howell 14-21-1-307.
RECEIVING—Virginia, Kemp 8-106, Wicks 7-183, Woods 6-47, R.Henry 4-66, Thompson 4-63, Hollins 4-34, Rodriguez 3-23, Walker 1-9, Fields 1-8, Misch 1-8, Armstead 1-6. North Carolina, Downs 8-203, Walston 3-15, K.Brown 1-75, A.Green 1-11, Morales 1-3.
MISSED FIELD GOALS—North Carolina, Atkins 54.