Virginia (2-6) at NC State (5-3) Nov. 3, 12:30, ACC Network
Here's The Deal: If NC State gets its wish, Carolina RB Gio Bernard will turn pro at the end of this season.
The Pack has seen enough of Bernard, who almost singlehandedly won last week's rivalry game in Chapel Hill. The loss, which included a blown 10-point lead in the fourth quarter, dropped the team behind Florida State and Clemson in the ACC Atlantic pecking order. A more realistic goal now has State securing a bowl bid as quickly as possible, and improving its postseason destination by remaining as far above .500 as possible.
Virginia used its bye week to assess the damage of a fading program saddled with a six-game losing streak. Head coach Mike London and his staff have tinkered with different combinations on both sides of the ball, but the results have been the same since a fortunate win over Penn State in Week 2. The Cavs have been close on numerous occasions, but three losses by no more than seven points in the last four games are testament to their youth and inexperience.
Why Virginia Might Win: NC State has shown cracks in the defense this season. Virginia will have to make like Miami and Carolina did, and expose them.
Hey, the Cavaliers offense has been undeniably flimsy this season, but the extra time to rest and prepare will be to their benefit. Assuming Phillip Sims continues to get the ball from London, he'll keep growing against a Pack secondary that's been a disappointment in 2012. He'll lean heavily on the running back tandem of Perry Jones and Kevin Parks, yet also play-action his way to sure-handed TE Jake McGee and receivers E.J. Scott and Darius Jennings.
Why NC State Might Win: The Pack has more depth and talent, but especially on passing downs.
Mike Glennon brings stability and downfield potential to the NC State passing game, something Virginia has lacked all year. Glennon is a next-level quarterback, with a cadre of gifted receivers, such as Bryan Underwood, Quintin Payton and Tobais Palmer. That trio could have its way with a Cavaliers secondary that's allowed 14 touchdown passes and picked off just one. The Cavs will also be on high alert whenever their own quarterback drops back to throw. The Pack ranks No. 12 nationally in sacks, producing pressure from myriad different angles.
What To Watch Out For: There are plenty of reasons why Virginia has struggled in 2012. Shaky special teams. Turnovers. The Cavaliers rank 120th in the nation in turnover margin, collecting just four takeaways in eight games. On the other side of the field, this could be a banner game for that Wolfpack secondary, which will be closely watching the eyes of Sims. CB David Amerson may not have blown up the way he did in 2011, but he remains an elite pass defender, who's liable to increase his ACC lead in interceptions.
What Will Happen: State will need to have a short memory after last week's gut-wrenching loss. Glennon and head coach Tom O'Brien will make sure of it.
The Pack is a veteran team that's grown accustomed to the ebbs and flows of a campaign. They'll rebound in a hurry against a Virginia squad that lacks the talent and the motivation to pull a road upset. Glennon will throw a pair of scoring strikes, while the defense harasses Sims into repeated mistakes. State will easily win the turnover margin, coasting in the second half of a comfortable victory.
CFN Prediction: NC State 31 … Virginia 16
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