Fedora said the threat of Perkins running the ball affected UNC’s pass defense, an assessment senior linebacker Cole Holcomb agreed with.
“There were times where we had to cut our coverage loose and let things happen and trust in other guys to hold for that (QB) run,” Holcomb said. “Things that went against our rules, but we had to do them.”
Running game woes
UNC was averaging just north of five yards per carry entering Saturday’s game, but it struggled to find success in the ground game against a Cavalier defense that allowed 119.71 rushing yards on average through its first seven games.
One week after junior Antonio Williams ran for 116 yards against Syracuse, he was limited to 21 yards on seven carries. As a team, the Tar Heels only earned 66 yards on the ground on 22 rush attempts.
The Tar Heels’ inability to run effectively set up tough third-down scenarios, as UNC converted on just four of 14 third downs.
“Going into the game, it was, ‘We have to be able to run the ball on first and second down efficiently and stay in short thirds — thirds and mediums,’” Fedora said. “We didn’t get many of those because we weren’t efficient.”
Junior tight end Carl Tucker, often used as a blocker in the run game, said UNC couldn’t handle Virginia up front.
“They were just a bit more physical than we were today, and obviously it showed,” Tucker said.
Newsome, Corrales and Tucker step up in passing game
With Virginia star cornerback Bryce Hall working on UNC big-play threat Anthony Ratliff- Williams, UNC needed others to step up in the passing game.
In the first half, several guys did just that. UNC’s first score of the game came on a 30-yard strike to sophomore receiver Dazz Newsome, who a week ago returned a punt 75 yards for a touchdown against Syracuse. Seven games into the season, Newsome, a Hampton, Va., native, has 28 receptions, 10 more than his tally from a year ago.
In addition to Newsome, sophomore Beau Corrales and Tucker served as reliable targets for junior quarterback Nathan Elliott.
Coming off his first touchdown of the year against Syracuse, Corrales led UNC with 62 receiving yards, 28 of which came on a play that didn’t look like it would go for a big gain. After running a curl route, Corrales hurdled a would-be tackler and broke free down the sideline.
Two plays later, Elliott hit Tucker for a 16-yard score, the tight end’s first touchdown since November 2016. Tucker finished with 48 receiving yards on three receptions.
“I thought they did a great job,” Elliott said of Corrales and Tucker. "They did a great job blocking and catching. I’m proud of both those guys.”
Yet, UNC’s success in the passing game dwindled as the contest progressed. Elliott completed 12 of 16 passes for 132 yards in the first half but was only 3 of 7 for 41 yards in the third quarter. After having a big presence in the first half, Newsome was a non-factor following halftime. Apart from a 43-yard completion to Williams on a screen pass and a 27-yard catch by Tucker in the fourth quarter, UNC struggled to get in a rhythm.
“I have to do my job,” Elliott said. “I have to make better throws and give our team a better chance.”
Pass rush success
Despite Perkins’ gaudy numbers, UNC’s pass rush still made life tough for the Virginia quarterback at times. The Tar Heels recorded three sacks, and two came at crucial junctures.
With the Cavaliers leading 14-7 and approaching the end zone once again in the second quarter, senior defensive tackle Jalen Dalton dropped Perkins for a big loss, forcing the home team to settle for a field goal.
First-year defensive end Chris Collins also played a big role, and his best play of the game came in the third quarter when he got to Perkins for a loss of five, taking Virginia, which led by 10 at the time, out of field goal range. Collins also got in Perkins’ face on his lone interception, a poorly thrown ball tracked down by UNC junior safety Myles Dorn.
Saturday’s game marked the sixth time this season UNC had multiple sacks.
“I think we got after him for the most part,” Holcomb said. “He’s just a good athlete.”
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