CHARLOTTESVILLE — By Sunday, Virginia's football players were so far beyond their 41-40 win against Miami, they didn't even take time to look at the full game on film — not with North Carolina slated for a Thursday night game in Charlottesville.
U.Va. coach Mike London said the team reviewed the mistakes from the Miami game and moved right into preparation for UNC (6-4 overall, 3-3 Atlantic Coast Conference). Without a doubt, some of those rehashed mistakes had something to do with how U.Va. failed to get Miami freshman Duke Johnson on the ground before he piled on yards.
Brushing up on what went wrong against Johnson, who had 368 all-purpose yards against U.Va. (4-6, 2-4), could pay dividends when the Cavaliers face UNC running back Giovani Bernard — at least that's what London hopes.
"I think it definitely makes you more aware of the capabilities of a guy like (Bernard) — that you could have someone assigned to him and his athletic skills and ability can make you miss or do things," said London, whose team needs to beat UNC and win Nov. 24 at Virginia Tech to get bowl-eligible. "That's going to require attention by the entire defense.
"We've played against some pretty dynamic running backs through the course of the season, but definitely Johnson and I would say Bernard … our work is cut out for us."
Coming out of UNC's fast-paced, no-huddle offense, Bernard has been a handful for just about every defense he's played this season. In UNC's 48-34 win against Tech on Oct. 6, he torched the Hokies for 262 rushing yards, the most a player has run for in a game against Tech.
For the season, he leads the ACC in rushing yards with 1,008 (eighth in the nation), average yards per punt return with 17.9 (fourth in the nation), all-purpose yards per game with 208.8 (third in the nation) and average points per game with 12.8 points (second in the nation). He's gained at least 135 rushing in four of UNC's last five games.
"You live for competition like this," said U.Va. linebacker La'Roy Reynolds, who's part of a unit that's 33rd in the nation in total defense (349.1 yards per game) and 43rd in rushing defense (143.8 yards per game). "I always watch (film) with a critical eye, always try to see the certain moves he's making, certain line blocks. I do have a lot of respect for him, just the player he is. I think it's just one of those things where you just kind of have to step up to the challenge."
Johnson, who had a 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and 150 yards rushing against U.Va., isn't far behind Bernard in the do-everything category. Johnson leads the ACC in average yards per kickoff return with 35.4 (third in the nation). He's third in the conference in rushing yards with 705, and third in all-purpose yards per game with 168.8 (ninth in the nation).
Stopping teams in the return game has been an issue for U.Va. all season. U.Va. is 94th in the nation out of 120 Bowl Subdivision programs in average yards given up per punt return (10.3 yards) and last in the nation in average yards surrendered on kickoff return (28.7).
While corralling Bernard is a challenge, getting ready to see UNC's hit-'em-when-they-ain't-ready style offense isn't terribly concerning for U.Va.'s defense. In a 44-38 loss to Louisiana Tech on Sept. 29, U.Va. saw an offense that allegedly averages 12 seconds per play, and aims for eight seconds.
UNC, which is ineligible for postseason play due to NCAA sanctions, is third in the ACC in total offense (488.7 yards per game) under coach Larry Fedora. U.Va. already is familiar with how Fedora likes to run his offense, having seen him last season when he coached at Southern Mississippi. U.Va. lost 30-24 to Southern Miss.
"With Louisiana Tech, we got kind of a good vision of what the offense is going to look like," U.Va. linebacker Steve Greer said. "Playing Southern Miss last year, we can go back and look at that film and kind of remember how the game pace went for that game. It's definitely going to be fast-paced (against UNC)."
WHO: North Carolina (6-4, 3-3 ACC) at Virginia (4-6, 2-4).
WHEN: 7:30 p.m.
TV: ESPN.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times