Sometimes dominance is easy to recognize.
all day, every day. Other times, it's less apparent. Take the Virginia-North Carolina football rivalry.
After the Cavaliers' 16-3 win muddied a postcard-perfect Saturday matinee for the Carolina blues at Kenan Stadium, Virginia has won four in a row, seven of eight and 10 of 12 in the series.
Looks like dominance. Smells like dominance. Can you call it domination, though, when comparable programs bang away at one another year after year and one simply finds ways to win?
Consider that Virginia managed only one touchdown in regulation in each of the past three games versus Carolina and won all three.
"It's toughness," Virginia defensive end Nate Collins explained. "Coach (Al) Groh preaches about toughness all the time and being relentless and making a team crack. I feel like that's what we did."
Virginia logged its first win of the season with defense, special teams and a shade more offense than its Carolina counterparts, who for the second consecutive week accomplished just this side of squat when they had the ball.
In last week's loss to Georgia Tech, the Tar Heels had the ball for only 17:54 and scored one touchdown. Saturday versus the Cavaliers, they had the ball for almost 10 more minutes, gained 20 more yards (174) and finished with four fewer points.
"It's a little bit of a carryover of the same thing from last week," Carolina coach Butch Davis said. "The defense played well enough at times, certainly, to give us a chance to win the game. But it's a team game, and we talk in the locker room all the time … you can't just win one phase of the game. We've got to find a way to win two of the three phases, and I thought our defense fought, they scratched and they kept it to a three-point, a six-point game, for an awfully long time."
The Cavaliers' defense limited Carolina's rushing attack to a net 39 yards and set up in quarterback T.J. Yates' kitchen much of the afternoon. Tailback Shaun Draughn, who gashed the Cavs for 138 yards rushing last season in Charlottesville, finished with just 25 yards Saturday.
The Tar Heels appeared allergic to taking shots downfield in their passing game. Yates' 20 completions netted just 135 yards.
"We were going in knowing that it was going to be on the front seven," said Virginia defensive end Matt Conrath, who batted down three of Yates' passes at the line of scrimmage, "and that they were going to try to run the ball on us, and if we stopped them we'd have a good chance of winning."
Indeed, Saturday's grindfest was the kind of day where folks cheered for first downs, punts were scrutinized like poll results, and field goals were precious gems.
The closest thing to a traditional big play came midway through the fourth quarter with the Cavaliers clinging to a 9-3 lead. Collins hit Yates' arm on a throw, altering the trajectory and allowing Chase Minnifield to come up with an interception at the Carolina 42.
The Cavaliers capitalized, scoring the game's only touchdown seven plays later.
In the absence of big plays, smaller plays took center stage: Conrath's knockdowns; quarterback Jameel Sewell covering his own fumble, followed by the first of Robert Randolph's three field goals; back-to-back Sewell completions for 32 yards after Carolina had cut the lead to 6-3 in the third quarter, which led to Randolph's third field goal; Chris Cook's open-field tackle against Devon Ramsay for no gain on third-and-1 late in the third quarter when the Tar Heels tried to mount a comeback; Jared Green's great 9-yard catch of Sewell's poor throw on third-and-4, keeping the touchdown drive alive.
"They had a chance to come back in the second half," Collins said, "but we stood in there and we kept going and we kept pushing and kept fighting and we didn't crack in the end, and that was the difference."
Though the Cavaliers were winless, they showed more life in their most recent loss at Southern Miss than in either of their first two games. With two weeks to prepare for their ACC rivals, did Groh foresee a performance such as Saturday's?
"I don't look at things that way," he said, "I just coach the team. Who's to say how it's going to go every week? What I could see is that the players were well prepared."
Plus, it was North Carolina on the other sideline, which makes it as close to a done deal as it gets for Virginia these days.
Dave Fairbank can be reached at 247-4637 or by e-mail at
. For more from Fairbank, read his blog at dailypress.com/fromthetarpit.