Tar Heels stunned by Cavs|North Carolina can’t get offense going

Published 9:23 pm Sunday, October 4, 2009

By By AARON BEARD, AP Sports Writer
CHAPEL HILL — It took just one game for Virginia to regain some of the confidence lost during an 0-3 start. Now it’s North Carolina’s turn to figure out what’s gone wrong.
Mikell Simpson ran for the game-clinching touchdown in the fourth quarter while Virginia’s defense turned in a dominating performance to beat North Carolina 16-3 on Saturday, giving the Cavaliers yet another victory against their cross-border rivals.
Robert Randolph kicked three field goals for the Cavs (1-3, 1-0 Atlantic Coast Conference), who went into their bye week looking desperate and hearing Al Groh’s critics chirping about his uncertain future at his alma mater. They emerged from that break with a victory against a team that was nationally ranked only a week earlier to start league play.
‘‘We’re very proud, very appreciative of the effort they put in to make this happen and very happy for them that they can enjoy a moment like this,’’ Groh said.
‘‘Everything that we all do for months and weeks is to experience the five or six minutes when a team comes into that locker room and has that sense of satisfaction. That’s what it’s all about. And they earned every part of it.’’
Simpson added 100 yards rushing, but the Cavaliers didn’t need much offense considering the way their defense completely locked down on the Tar Heels (3-2, 0-2). North Carolina got nothing from its rushing attack, committed three turnovers and managed just 174 total yards. And when Simpson ran it in from 8 yards out with 5:49 left, Virginia had a two-possession lead that sent most of the light blue-clad Tar Heel fans bolting for the Kenan Stadium exits.
The ones who stayed booed the Tar Heels steadily the rest of the way, which was coincidentally the same thing the Cavaliers heard during their last home game.
‘‘We needed (the win) bad just for the fact we started 0-3 and a lot of guys had confidence coming into the season that we would never be in this situation,’’ Simpson said. ‘‘We all just got together as a team and had a lot of team talks and player-to-player talks and realized we hadn’t played any ACC games, so our goals were still alive.’’
Virginia had lost at home to Championship Subdivision team William &Mary in the opener, then followed that with a a 30-14 home loss to TCU. The Cavaliers then scrapped some of the spread offense they had installed in the preseason before the Southern Mississippi game and led by 17 points at halftime before falling 37-34.
Now the Cavaliers have won 10 of 12 meetings against North Carolina, including all three since Butch Davis took over in Chapel Hill in 2007.
They took control midway through the final period as they protected a 9-3 lead. North Carolina had driven near midfield, but quarterback T.J. Yates was hit as he tried to throw and the ball shot almost straight up in the air for Chase Minnifield to make a diving interception with 9:22 left. That set up Simpson’s touchdown run for the 16-3 lead.
‘‘It’s just being relentless,’ said defensive end Nate Collins, who had the interception-forcing hit on Yates. ‘‘Our coaches told us this week, ’Just be too hard to handle for everybody.’’’
While there was still almost 6 minutes on the clock, it was clear North Carolina’s offense was in no position to get back into the game. The Tar Heels ran for just 39 yards — starting tailback Shaun Draughn had 25 yards on 14 carries — while Yates couldn’t connect with emerging receiver Erik Highsmith, who had posted consecutive 100-yard games but didn’t catch a pass until the final period.
It was the second straight week that North Carolina’s offense had turned in a clunker, prompting Yates when asked about the crowd response to say, ‘‘We deserve to get boos.’’
The lone bright spot for North Carolina was its defense, which kept the Tar Heels close for much of the day until the final minutes despite their struggles on offense. Virginia managed just 254 total yards.
‘‘It’s very frustrating,’’ said Robert Quinn, who had three sacks. ‘‘They’re going three-and-out and we’re back on the field or they’re turning the ball over and we’re back on the field. It’s a team game and I’m not trying to play the blame game, but the offense has got to help us some.’’