Heading into this game UNC was without TE Eric Ebron which left a rather sizable hole in the passing game. Ebron is a match-up problem for most defenses and a nice safety valve for QB Bryn Renner. The assumption was that heavy doses of Giovani Bernard would cover for Ebron's absence. As it turns out, Bernard was generally limited by the Virginia defense leaving UNC to lean on freshman WR Quinshad Davis to carry much of the offensive load and give a nice glimpse into what the future might hold.
Davis had 178 yards receiving and tied an ACC record with 16 receptions to pace the Tar Heel offense which was extremely efficient for most of the game. Renner recorded his fifth straight 300-yard passing game going 29-36 for 315 yards and three touchdowns.
Overall, this was one of the better offensive performances of the season, especially in terms of execution. The tempo appeared to be much crisper and Renner took advantage of Virginia's inability to cover Davis and other Tar Heel receivers and was extremely accurate. The success of the passing game offset Bernard's sub-par evening rushing the football. Bernard had 15 rushes for 57 yards and four catches for 47 yards and a touchdown. Virginia's defense was a huge factor in Bernard's number, swarming him on multiple runs and keeping him from getting space to operate. However, the attention to the run was certainly part of the reason why UNC was able to do so much damage passing the football. UNC also employed Marquise Williams at QB at random spots, but only on bootleg or QB sneaks which worked until UVa figured out he was never going to pass the ball.
On the defensive side, UNC continued to struggled with basic pass defense and tackling. Miscues in both areas continued to cause all sorts of problems for the Heels illustrated fully when a scrambling Phil Sims found a wide open receiver in the end zone. However, the play of the front four and a timely pick six from Tre Boston ended up shifting the balance of the game in UNC's favor. DT Sylvester Williams was completely dominant with eight tackles, two for a loss and a sack, one of four on the night. While UNC has been prone to giving up 3rd and 4th down plays, the Heels came up with both a key moments in this one. With the Tar Heel leading 20-13 in the third quarter, UVa drove inside the five with four shots to punch it in to tie the game. UNC kept Virginia out of the end zone stopping Cavalier RB Kevin Parks for a two yard loss on 4th and goal from the one. The Heels then engineered a 97-yard drive to open up a two touchdown lead.
The Heels move to 7-4 on the season and have nine days to prepare for a post-Thanksgiving season finale with Maryland in Chapel Hill. A win next week would give the Heels an 8-4 mark in Larry Fedora's first season and certainly a good start to his tenure in Chapel Hill.
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