Virginia looks to keep rolling in visit to reeling UNC

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — Virginia knows it only takes one week for a season’s momentum to completely flip.

North Carolina hopes that exactly what happens.

The Cavaliers look to take another step toward bowl eligibility Saturday when they visit the reeling Tar Heels.

For Virginia (4-1, 1-0 Atlantic Coast Conference), the preseason pick to finish last in the Coastal Division, the fourth-year players have been in a similar position before.

They were freshmen in 2014 on the team that started 4-2 but failed to qualify for a bowl game after losing five of its final six games.

Second-year coach Bronco Mendenhall said the players that “have been through maybe a strong start and a rocky finish maybe will add an extra sense of urgency and guardianship over the program and preparation to give us our best chance.”

“All this — any momentum can be extinguished, and there’s so much emotional investment put into each week,” Mendenhall said. “One game or one win or one loss doesn’t determine the outcome of a season, but yet the teams that are able to focus on the next game, cliche as it is, like it’s the only game, have the best chance.”

The Tar Heels (1-5, 0-3) certainly are counting on a reversal.

An inexperienced, injury-riddled team has lost three straight, is winless at Kenan Stadium and its only wins in the last 10 games dating to last season have come against only The Citadel and Old Dominion.

North Carolina coach Larry Fedora knew it would be a challenge to overcome the early departure of quarterback Mitch Trubisky to the NFL and an inexperienced offense. Halfway through the schedule, Fedora acknowledged after last weekend’s 33-10 loss to Notre Dame that he’s struggling to find answers.

“I take a lot of pride in what we do, so I do get frustrated,” Fedora said. “I want our guys to be perfect and I want to put them in position where they can be perfect. . We’re trying not to leave any stone unturned to try to give these guys another opportunity to be successful.”


Some things to know about Saturday’s Virginia-UNC game:

PLAY CALLS: With UNC’s offense sputtering, coach Larry Fedora said he plans to be more involved in play-calling duties going forward. Fedora made his name as an offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State and Florida before becoming Southern Mississippi’s head coach. Speaking Monday, Fedora described it as weighing in more between possessions but added: “I’m not saying I’m taking over the offense.”

THIRD-DOWN RATE: One of the overlooked stats from North Carolina’s traditionally strong offense has been its third-down conversion rate, which stood at 47 percent over the previous two seasons. But the offense ranks 121st out of 129 Bowl Subdivision programs in that category at 29.8 percent. It’s been especially bad in the past two games, with the Tar Heels have gone three-and-out on 13 of 27 drives against Georgia Tech and Notre Dame — including five straight three-and-outs to open the loss to the Fighting Irish.

GROUND CONTROL: The Cavaliers have relied largely on a short passing game to help limit pressure on QB Kurt Benkert and makeup for the absence of a reliable running game, but Jordan Ellis ran for 96 yards in a victory over Duke and earns plaudits from his line from how hard he runs? Could Virginia be on the verge of getting two-dimensional?

BIG PLAYS ALLOWED: UNC’s defense continues to offset defensive improvements by having breakdowns that allow for long touchdowns. The Tar Heels have surrendered eight touchdowns of at least 30 yards in their five losses, with half of those going for at least 63 yards. That can’t continue if UNC wants to avoid its first 0-4 ACC start since 2006.


More AP college football: and—Top25


AP Sports Writers Aaron Beard in Chapel Hill and Hank Kurz Jr. in Virginia contributed to this report.


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