Virginia, which has won in each of its last two appearances in Kenan Stadium, is coming off a 34-31 road win against Indiana — in which defensive end Cam Johnson stripped the ball from the Hoosier offense and set up a game-winning field goal.
Johnson is tied for third in the conference in tackles for loss and will likely put a lot of pressure on North Carolina first-year starting quarterback Bryn Renner.
North Carolina is one of only 10 teams in the nation that hasn’t allowed a sack — and five of the squads have only played in one game.
Offensive lineman Jonathan Cooper is not ready to shed that distinction just yet.
“(Virginia does) blitz a lot less (than Rutgers), and it will be one of those games where it’s kind of match up, line versus line, and see who can beat who,” Cooper said. “I’m not gonna say I like my odds, but I’m up for the challenge.”
Virginia’s defense is ranked second in the conference against the pass and first in kickoff coverage. The Cavaliers also boast preseason all-ACC cornerback Chase Minnifield.
Minnifield grabbed six interceptions last season — good for No. 2 in the conference and No. 5 nationally.
And for a quarterback who has already racked up four picks in his first two games, the Cavalier secondary could be a problem for Renner.
“Their defense is always something we need to be aware of,” Renner said. “We’re just going to have to play our butts off and see what happens.”
North Carolina and Virginia have met every season since 1919 — one of the oldest rivalries in college football.
But against the Cavaliers on Saturday, there will be one tradition in particular that North Carolina will hope to break.
“(The conference-opener losing streak) is something we need to take seriously,” Renner said. “Really the only thing that matters is the ACC,” Renner said.
“Yes, winning against JMU and winning against Rutgers is nice, but this is when our season officially begins.”
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