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North Carolina at Virginia
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Thursday night football is back in the ACC this week as North Carolina visits Virginia. Both teams have had slightly disappointing seasons as North Carolina sits at 6-4 but ineligible for the postseason and Virginia would need back-to-back upsets to close the season to reach 6-6. Virginia has owned the recent ATS history in this series but North Carolina has won convincingly the last two years. Take a look at this week’s Thursday night match-up and the history between these teams.

Matchup: North Carolina Tar Heels at Virginia Cavaliers
Venue: Scott Stadium, Charlottesville, Virginia
Date: Thursday, November 15, 2012
Time/TV: 7:30 PM ET – ESPN
Line: North Carolina -3½, Over/Under 61½
Last Meeting: 2011, North Carolina (-10) 28-17 at North Carolina

Virginia delivered a solid 2011 season with an 8-5 record, though the scoring numbers suggested a fall back might be in order this season. Head Coach Mike London’s third season started out with some promise, soundly defeated Richmond, a formidable FCS foe where London used to be employed, and then holding on to beat Penn State for a 2-0 start. The ACC opener was a disaster and ultimately the Cavaliers lost six consecutive games before getting on track with wins the last two weeks.

Virginia is a puzzling team as statistically this team looks better than its record. Virginia posts averages of 419 yards on offense and 349 yards on defense per game. Among conference only games Virginia has allowed the second fewest yards per game in the entire ACC, only trailing Florida State, yet the Virginia is near the bottom of the league in scoring defense. Turnovers are the easy explanation as Virginia is -12 on the season, one of the worst margins in the nation. Virginia has only won the turnover battle in one of 10 games this season.

Quarterback Michael Rocco was steady presence for the Cavaliers last season and his numbers are actually slightly better this season, completing over 61 percent of his passes and he has 12 touchdowns against eight interceptions while finishing last season with a 13-12 ratio. He has only taken five sacks this season and he is coming off by far his best game of the season in a 41-40 win over Miami last week. Rocco is now splitting time as sophomore Phillip Sims was given a shot after the early season losing and both quarterbacks will continue to play. Sims has a stronger arm and more mobility but he also has been mistake prone and Rocco has played a larger role in all the wins for the Cavaliers.

Sophomore running back Kevin Parks has been a steady presence in the backfield, posting 4.7 yards per carry and he has seen an expanded role over senior Perry Jones, who led the team in rushing last season. Both are getting carries and the Cavaliers have not run as much as last season, in part due to being behind in most games. Virginia is passing for 282 yards per game, significantly more than last season and overall Virginia has gained about 20 more yards per game and scored about three more points per game this season despite the worse record.

For Virginia on defense the statistics for the team are almost identical to last season in terms of yardage but Virginia has allowed over 29 points per game this season after holding foes below 24 points per game last year. Last year’s team had a veteran defense that returned nine starters but this year only five starters returned, losing five of the top eight leading tacklers from the 2011 team. In four separate games Virginia has allowed 40 or more points and while in home games Virginia has allowed just 308 yards per game they have still allowed 27 points per games.

Many expected North Carolina to be the top team in the ACC Coastal division this season and while the Tar Heels could still make that case, they have been a very inconsistent team. This program has been void a stability as Butch Davis was fired shortly before the 2011 season. Everett Withers led the Tar Heels on an interim basis last season, going 7-6 after an Independence Bowl loss. North Carolina went just 3-5 in conference games last season and the Tar Heels opted to hire Larry Fedora who had been a part of the Conference USA championship for Southern Mississippi last season. North Carolina was placed on probation and won’t be allowed in the postseason to put further strain on the program.

After beating FCS Elon in the opener North Carolina lost back-to-back close games, losing by one against Wake Forest and falling by five against Louisville. Both of those games were on the road and North Carolina is 1-3 S/U and 0-4 ATS away from home this season. At home North Carolina had been dominant until last week’s ugly 68-50 loss against Georgia Tech.

North Carolina allowed 588 yards last week and while allowing 68 points was certainly a season high, the Tar Heels have allowed 28 or more points six times this season. The defense has regressed for a third straight season after being one of the most dominant defensive teams in the nation in 2009. North Carolina’s struggles against the run last week were surprising considering the team had two weeks to prepare for Georgia Tech’s unique offense. Among ACC only statistics North Carolina has been one of the worst defensive teams in the conference.

North Carolina has delivered huge numbers on offense, posting 489 yards per game and over 40 points per game. By all accounts junior quarterback Bryn Renner has had a fine season as he has nearly surpassed the 13-game numbers from last season through 10 games with 20 touchdowns and over 2,700 yards passing. He has had just seven interceptions and while his completion percentage is down from last year he has still connected on over 63 percent of his passes. He has not had a multiple-interception game this season as his statistics have been very consistent.

Running back and return specialist Giovani Bernard missed two of the games that North Carolina lost and he is one of the most dynamic playmakers in the country. He has over 1,000 yards rushing this season despite only playing in eight games and only featuring double-digit carries in six games, averaging an absurd 7.1 yards per carry. He also has over 400 receiving yards and he has accounted for 17 touchdowns. North Carolina has lacked standouts in the passing game however as tight end Eric Ebron leads the team with just 568 receiving yards. The Tar Heels have spread the ball around lacking a true #1 target.

The North Carolina offense has done its part however as they are the 10th highest scoring team nationally and only once has this team been held below 27 points. The offense is posting almost 100 more yards per game compared with last season and in the four losses North Carolina has scored an average of 35 points. Last week’s loss was the first game that North Carolina had lost by more than five points.

North Carolina is not eligible to advance to the ACC title game but the ACC Coastal division has been a log-jam with two 4-3 teams, two 3-3 teams, and two 2-4 teams. The Cavaliers could still reach a bowl game by winning out but they have another tough game next week at Virginia Tech so it will be a long shot. Virginia should be focused on the final home game however and the quick turnaround could favor the home team. Not counting the opening week games, Thursday college home teams are 9-9 S/U but 10-8 ATS this season and the home team has covered in four of the last five Thursday games the last two weeks.

Line Movement: North Carolina opened as 4-point favorite but the line has dropped to -3½. The total opened at 61 and has climbed to 61½.

Last Meeting: These teams opened the ACC season last season with North Carolina winning 28-17, holding on to cover as a 10-point favorite. Virginia actually won the yardage battle 468-401 but the Cavaliers had three costly turnovers. Virginia scored first in the game but by the early 3rd quarter the Tar Heels had a 21-3 lead. The game certainly could have been closer however as Virginia missed an early field goal and also was stopped going for it on 4th down inside the red zone early in the game.

Series History: North Carolina is 11-20-1 SU and 13-19 ATS in this series going back to 1980. North Carolina has won and covered in the last two meetings but Virginia is 11-3 ATS in this series since 1998. North Carolina is just 3-13 ATS at Virginia and just 5-10 ATS as a favorite in this series since 1980. North Carolina did won 44-10 as a slight favorite in Charlottesville two years ago however.

North Carolina Historical Trends: North Carolina is 31-37-1 ATS as a road favorite since 1980 including going just 4-10 ATS since 2006. North Carolina is just 16-29 S/U in road games since 2004 including just two road wins since the start of last season.

Virginia Historical Trends: Virginia is 18-13 ATS as a home underdog since 2001 including winning SU in 14 of those games. Starting in late 2001 Virginia covered in a stretch of nine straight instances as a home underdog ending in 2005 but lately the results have been poor. Virginia is just 3-9 in the last 12 games as a home underdog, including losing in the only instance this season. Under Coach London Virginia is 11-9 S/U and 7-12-1 ATS in home games.

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