Five things to watch: Tar Heels hope to avoid getting caught in a trap at UVA

Virginia Tech has already won this week, meaning that the North Carolina football team has to win at Virginia to keep pace with the Hokies and maintain a reasonable shot at repeating its ACC Coastal Division championship

Eamon Queeney—The North State Journal
North Carolina Tar Heels defensive tackle Nazair Jones (90) and North Carolina Tar Heels linebacker Andre Smith (10) take down Pittsburgh Panthers quarterback Nathan Peterman (4) in the second quarter of the college football game at Kenan Memorial Stadium in Chapel Hill

Virginia Tech has already won this week, meaning that the North Carolina football team has to win at Virginia to keep pace with the Hokies and maintain a reasonable shot at repeating its ACC Coastal Division championship. At one point this season, it appeared as this game might be something of a walkover for the Tar Heels. But after starting the season under new coach Bronco Mendenhall with three straight losses, including an embarrassing defeat at the hands of FCS Richmond, the Cavaliers have begun to show show signs of life with victories against Central Michigan and Duke, along with a respectable showing in a loss to Pittsburgh. That improvement aside, UNC still has a lot going for it as a double-digit favorite riding an eight-game winning streak in true road games. Here are five things to watch as the Tar Heels (5-2, 3-1 ACC) look to take care of business against the Cavaliers (2-4, 1-1) in a 3:30 p.m. game at Scott Stadium in Charlottesville:Beware of the trap If ever there was the potential for a trap game, this is it. Having survived a four-game stretch in which they had to run a gauntlet of Pittsburgh, Florida State, Virginia Tech and Miami — going 3-1 along the way — it’s only human nature for the Tar Heels to take a deep breath and relax for a moment against an opponent picked to finish last in the Coastal Division. But UNC can’t afford to just stroll into Charlottesville and expect to win just by showing up. Though still a work in progress, the Cavaliers have shown an ability to put points on the board — scoring 31 or more points in each of their last three games behind the passing of former East Carolina quarterback Kurt Benkert and the big-play capability of running back Taquan Mizzell. If coach Larry Fedora’s team starts turning the ball over like it did in its loss to Virginia Tech two weeks ago or continue to have trouble scoring touchdowns from the red zone as it did last Saturday at Miami, it could easily find itself in a more difficult situation than it would like. According to UNC quarterback Mitch Trubisky, the stakes are too high for he and his teammates to take any opponent lightly. “I don’t see it as a trap game,” Trubisky said. “It’s a big game for us in the Coastal. Virginia’s gotten better each week. They’re gonna be a really tough team. It’s a big game for us. I don’t see it (as a trap) and I hope nobody else on our team sees it that way.”Thin blue line The Tar Heels suffered a major loss this week when it was announced that Mack Hollins, a second-team All-ACC selection and UNC’s top deep-threat receiver, would be lost for the season with a broken clavicle. But the news only got worse on Thursday when the Tar Heels’ injury report revealed that starting left guard Caleb Peterson was also done for the year with a back injury that will require surgery. Peterson’s spot in the lineup will be filled by redshirt freshman Tommy Hatton. The injury situation on the offensive line could also get even more serious with right tackle Jon Heck listed as questionable. Heck left last week’s win at Miami with what appeared to be a concussion-like issue. If he’s not able to go against Virginia, he’ll be replaced by either his younger brother Charlie — a redshirt freshman — or true freshman William Sweet. Fedora praised both youngsters, but the fact is that both are being thrust into an important role for the first time in their young careers. Though Trubisky still has plenty of weapons at his disposal even without Hollins, how well he’s able to get the ball to those playmakers will likely be determined by how well the inexperienced linemen in front of him handle the pressure, both from within and the Cavaliers’ pass rush,Focus on the finish UNC’s offense looked much more like its old self at Miami last Saturday after suffering through a dreadful performance in a hurricane the previous week against Virginia Tech. But even though the Tar Heels rolled up 461 yards against a Hurricanes defense that came into the game among the most stingy in the ACC, they still managed only 20 points and were shut out in the second half. A big part of the problem was UNC’s recurring trouble with short-yardage situations. The Tar Heels had a chance to put the game away late in the third quarter with a first-and-goal situation from the 1-yard line. It’s an opportunity they wasted by failing to get the ball in the end zone — despite trying virtually every kind of play imaginable, including a quarterback sneak Fedora disdains. The short yardage