Virginia and North Carolina scored a combined 91 points in their respective football games last week. That's impressive. They allowed 108. That's abysmal.
So handicapping their collision Thursday night in Charlottesville is elementary.
Figure on 10-6 either way.
Granted, little about the Cavaliers and Tar Heels suggests a defensive slog. Averaging 40.5 points, Carolina is on pace to shatter the school record of 35.1 set in 1993; Virginia has scored 74 points the last two weeks, its most in consecutive games against Bowl Subdivision opponents since 2005 (51 versus Temple and 27 against Georgia Tech).
So why, even if partially in jest, forecast minimal scoring Thursday? Because this is ACC football, where in 2012 darn little unfolds logically.
Take the Tar Heels. They appeared poised to win out after Gio Bernard's last-minute punt return for touchdown gave them their first victory over North Carolina State in six years.
Carolina was 6-3, and despite NCAA sanctions barring it from postseason, on track to win at least nine games for the first time since 1997, Mack Brown's final season in Chapel Hill. Moreover, the Tar Heels had a bye week in which to prepare for visiting Georgia Tech's option offense last Saturday.
You know what happened. The Yellow Jackets won 68-50, the highest-scoring game in ACC history. On Carolina's homecoming, no less.
Now consider Virginia. Mired in a six-game losing streak, the Cavaliers traveled to North Carolina State two weeks ago. The Wolfpack was unbeaten at home, including an upset of previously unblemished Florida State, likely dooming the Seminoles' national championship hopes.
You know what happened. Virginia hammered N.C. State 33-6 and followed up with a 41-40 home conquest of Miami.
Suddenly, the Cavaliers (4-6, 2-4 ACC) are talking bowl. Win Thursday and at Virginia Tech on Nov. 24 — the Cavs have lost eight straight in the series and haven't won in Blacksburg since 1998 — and they head to postseason for the second consecutive year.
"They had a rough road there for a little bit and now it's like a totally different football team," Carolina coach Larry Fedora said Wednesday of Virginia. "You can see the confidence in the way they play."
Virginia Tech is fully immersed in the ACC's weirdness as well. In the past two weeks, the Hokies have converted 15 of 36 third downs, their opponents 4 of 24. Yet Tech (4-6, 2-4) lost those games to Miami and Florida State, and now must defeat Boston College and Virginia to extend its bowl streak to 20 consecutive seasons.
The Hokies know first-hand the challenges of defending Fedora's rapid-fire offense. Carolina defeated Tech 48-34 last month as Bernard rushed for 262 yards, the most ever against Virginia Tech.
One potential X factor Thursday: Tar Heels kicker Casey Barth, the leading scorer in program history, sustained a season-ending leg injury last week, leaving the position to Thomas Moore, a sophomore walk-on.
Moore replaced the injured Barth for the final 10 games last season and made 6 of 10 field goals, but only 3 of 7 from beyond 29 yards.
Not to say kicking is Virginia's trump. Drew Jarrett and Ian Frye are a combined 6-for-12 in the past six games. Plus, after last week's torching from Miami freshman Duke Johnson (214 yards on four returns), the Cavaliers rank last nationally in kickoff coverage, allowing 28.7 yards per return.
For all those components, this game figures to turn on Virginia coach Mike London's juggling of quarterbacks Michael Rocco and Phillip Sims.
Defying convention, London alternated them against N.C. State and Miami, with undeniable results. Rocco and Sims were a combined 60-for-84 (71.4 percent) for 586 yards and six touchdowns.
Fedora said Virginia runs the same schemes regardless of quarterback, while London described the rotation as "random."
"There's no, 'You go one series, you go two series,'" London said. "It's based on where we are, what kind of drive we made in the previous series, things like that."
During their six-game losing streak, the Cavaliers committed 16 turnovers and forced four. Against N.C. State and Miami, they forced six and committed two.
"Once that first (takeaway) happened (against N.C. State), it was that spark that we've been looking for," London said of Anthony Harris' interception of Mike Glennon, "and hopefully that spark continues. It's got to keep going here for a while."
Here's thinking it does Thursday.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun