CHAPEL HILL — Virginia is winless in 2009 and has lost seven straight games going back to 2008.
The heat is on ninth-year coach Al Groh as the Cavaliers (0-3) prepare for their ACC opener at North Carolina (3-1) on Saturday.
The good news for the Cavs? They're playing UNC. The ACC's oldest rivalry has been dominated recently by UVa, which is nevertheless a 14-point underdog.
The Cavaliers have won three straight, the first leading to John Bunting's firing in 2006, and nine of 11 in the series. Dating to 1983, Virginia is 19-6-1 against the Heels.
Groh is 6-2 against UNC and 28-28 against the rest of the ACC. The biggest reason for Groh's success in the rivalry can at least partly be attributed to UVa's defensive scheme.
The Cavs run a 3-4, with three defensive linemen and four linebackers, while most college teams employ a 4-3.
One fewer defender in a three-point stance doesn't sound like much of a difference, but it is, UNC coach Butch Davis said, especially as no other ACC team runs it.
"It's dramatically different," Davis said. " And they play it very well. They are so structurally sound that they don't give up a lot of cheap plays."
UNC has struggled to find points recently in the series. In the past six meetings, the Heels have averaged 12.8 points and have a 1-5 record in those games.
Last year, a 5-1 UNC team, ranked 18th in the country, went to Charlottesville and lost 16-13 in overtime to a 3-3 UVa team. The Heels scored 10 points in regulation, and that was with Shaun Draughn running for 138 yards.
The preparation for Virginia's 3-4 in practice this week, UNC quarterback T.J. Yates said, is akin to what the defense went through last week to ready for Georgia Tech's flexbone option.
"It's a different look," Yates said. "It throws off your protections and your run game."
Protecting Yates is Davis' biggest concern. Georgia Tech used a variety of blitzes to fluster Yates in an 11-of-26 performance with two interceptions. Without center Lowell Dyer, who's still out with a shoulder injury, and left guard Jonathan Cooper, who's questionable with a sore ankle, Tech pressured the middle of UNC's line. Yates was sacked only once, but the passing game was disrupted and the running game was nonexistent (18 carries, 17 yards).
"It's a copy-cat league; anything we've had trouble with people will try to adapt to their package," Davis said.
With Virginia's 3-4, which has been lit up for an average of 31 points per game, the question isn't will they blitz, but from which angle.
"They give the appearance of being totally balanced, then all of a sudden it evolves prior to the snap, or sometimes during the snap, into something totally different," Davis said. "They have a full gamut of potential pressures that you have to be ready for."
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