CHAPEL HILL — In the moments immediately following North Carolina’s 20-13 win at Miami last Saturday, defensive tackle Nazair Jones proudly proclaimed the Tar Heels to be the new “Florida state champs.” It’s a claim not without at least some degree of validity. In the span of three weeks, Jones and his teammates had knocked off Florida State in Tallahassee before returning to the Sunshine State and becoming just the second ACC team ever to beat both Florida schools on the road in the same season with their victory against the Hurricanes. As impressive an accomplishment as that might be, though, UNC’s success in the southernmost reaches of the ACC’s geographic footprint is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to winning true road games. With eight straight wins away from home dating back to Nov. 1, 2014 — the fourth-longest such streak in the country — coach Larry Fedora’s team has become the ACC’s reigning king of the road. “We knew going into the season, with our schedule, that we were going to have to be really good on the road if we were going to accomplish the goals we wanted,” Fedora said. “It’s something we talked about in the very first team meeting and they’re doing that to this point.” Other than a season-opening loss to Georgia at the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic in Atlanta, technically a neutral site despite a decidedly partisan Bulldog crowd, the Tar Heels have been significantly better on the road than at home this season. In addition to the victories at FSU and Miami, they also won at Illinois on Sept. 10. UNC will get another chance to flex its muscle away from home this Saturday when it travels to Charlottesville to renew the South’s oldest rivalry against a Virginia team Fedora has beaten all six times he’s faced it. That includes two straight wins at Scott Stadium. “We’re just thriving off the atmosphere of other teams and using that as fuel to go out there and execute on plays,” said defensive tackle Jeremiah Clarke, whose fumble recovery on the final possession secured the win at Miami. “We need to worry about playing a little bit better at the Tar Pit … but we expect to do well on the road, which most teams seem to struggle with.” The atmosphere at Virginia on Saturday probably won’t rival that of the hostility the Tar Heels have faced in some of their other true road conquests, including wins at N.C. State, Virginia Tech, Pittsburgh and Georgia Tech last year. But according to Fedora, that shouldn’t matter. He said the key to UNC’s recent success in true road games is the work the team puts in during the week before ever leaving Chapel Hill. And not just because of the crowd noise and other loud distractions the coach sometimes has piped in at practice. “Our guys are doing a great job of preparing each week, that’s the biggest thing” Fedora said of his team’s true road game winning streak — which trails only Ohio State (20), Alabama (10) and Iowa (9). “They understand what it takes to be successful. There’s no surprises. They know how many reps they’re going to get. They know the same thing on Tuesday, on Wednesday and Thursday, and they know what type of energy they’ve got to give and how their attitudes need to be. And they’ve been doing that.” No matter how hard Fedora strives to keep things as consistent as possible, quarterback Mitch Trubisky said that there is a noticeable difference in the way he and his teammates approach road games as opposed to those in the friendly confines of Kenan Stadium. “Maybe we’re more focused when we’re away,” he said. “I guess it just brings us closer together to rely on each other more and playing harder. There’s just something about being on the road, it feels like you’ve got to get it done.” The Tar Heels will venture away from Chapel Hill only once more this season after Saturday, on Thursday night Nov. 10 at Duke. There’s also a possibility of playing in Orlando, site of the ACC’s relocated championship game in a state in which, as Jones pointed out, UNC feels right at home.
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