by Jacob Swiger
KENAN MEMORIAL STADIUM/ CHAPEL HILL—Trailing 9-3 at home with the defense keeping UNC in the game, the Tar Heel offense went three-and-out to begin the fourth quarter.
Not once. But two times in a row the Heels failed to gain a first down after the defense did its part. The second possession ended with an interception by UVa's Chase Minnifield -- which was the first of Yates two interceptions. UVa converted the turnover into the decisive touchdown with an 8-yard run by Mikell Simpson.
Virgina prevented the Heels from even sniffing the endzone and won its 10th game out of the last 12 contests 16-3 in the South's Oldest Rivalry.
The Heels managed to gain 40 yards in the fourth quarter against a Cavalier defense that came into this game rated No. 58 in the country for total defense. Running back Shaun Draughn averaged 1.8 yards per carry on 14 attempts and Yates threw for only 135 yards. Freshman receiver Erik Highsmith, who had more than 100 receiving yards the previous two games, caught two passes for 11 yards.
Here's the lone bright spot on the offenses' stat sheet: UNC improved in total offense from 154 yards against Georgia Tech to 174 yards against Virginia.
Coach Butch Davis and several of the players drew inspiration from the Baltimore Ravens' defense that led the team to the Super Bowl.
"They didn't score an offensive touchdown for seven weeks," Davis said. ''Sometimes you've got to find ways to win ugly."
Yet even though the Heels limited Virginia to 254 offensive yards, they forced zero turnovers for the second straight week.
"We have to create momentum and stuff like that," Deunta Williams said. ''We've got to try and create things for ourselves on defense."
UNC is one of the worst teams in the nation on offense statistically, and now the Heels seem very lucky to be 3-2 and not 2-3 with Georgia Southern coming to town. It might be time to give a few different skill players a chance to start, specifically running back Ryan Houston, who has a knack for gaining yards even when the line collapses.
"It's something that I think we have to talk about," Davis said. ''If you go back to the same exact game a year ago ... I want to say we ran for in excess of about 140 yards. It just didn't click for Shaun today."
UNC's defense shouldn't get a free pass this week, though. The front seven struggled to stop Simpson, who reached the 100-yard club on the ground, gaining many yards on runs out of the shotgun formation.
Defensive end Robert Quinn (three sacks) led a strong pass rush that disrupted the passing game, limiting Jameel Sewell to complete about 54 percent of his passes.
"It's very frustrating when they're going three-and-outs and we're back on the field," Quinn said. ''It's a team game, and I'm not trying to play the blame game, but the offense has got to help us some."
So the Heels sit at 0-2 in conference play with a crucial Thursday night contest against Florida State fast approaching and the Coastal Division now out of discussion. The offense has a lot of catching up to do in the next few weeks if UNC is going put up points against ACC competition.