Cavaliers Visit Tar Heels In Season-Opening ACC Battle
Sept. 2, 1999
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – The 23rd-ranked Virginia Cavaliers lost their starting quarterback,leadingreceiver and two best offensive linemen from last year’s team. The North Carolina Tar Heels saw star cornerback Dre Bly leave for theNFLand are expected to play at least eight true freshmen this season. That gives the 107-year-old rivalry a new look when the schools meetSaturday in Chapel Hill.
Virginia coach George Welsh is one familiar face, heading into his18th yearat the helm of the Cavaliers. Welsh comes off a 9-3 overall mark and 6-2 conference record in ’98. Withquarterback Aaron Brooks and receiver Terrence Wilkins gone, this season’ssuccess will hinge on the play of junior tailback Thomas Jones.
“He’s experienced and I know he’ll work hard on his speed andacceleration,” Welsh said. “I think Thomas has to be one of our leaders. It’shis turn now to step up.”
Jones made huge strides last year. The 5-foot-10, 205-pounder rushedfor aconference-best 1,303 yards and was ranked 11th nationally.
Brooks’ departure leaves junior Dan Ellis, who has played in just eightgames in two years at Virginia, as the team’s apparent starting quarterback.Junior David Rivers was impressive in practice and will also be considered.
“When Ellis first came here, he learned the offense faster than anybodywe’ve ever had,” admitted Welsh. “He was ready to play as a true freshman.Hopefully, after getting more work and working with the first team most of thetime, he’ll be an improved quarterback.”
At wide receiver, Ellis and Rivers will look to juniors Kevin Coffey, whocaught 23 passes for 583 yards and five touchdowns in ’98, and AhmadHawkins, atwo-year letterman with 10 receptions and 176 yards.
First-year defensive coordinator Rick Lantz has seven starters back,including defensive end Travis Griffith, a two-year starter with 40 tacklesandthree sacks.
North Carolina coach Carl Torbush has mixed emotions about fielding theconference’s youngest team.
“That’s good because we feel like they’re good enough football playerswhoare athletic and will make contributions,” he said.
“It’s not good in that several of them will step into key, criticalpositions that have the ability to either make you better or get you beat in ahurry.”
For example, the early pro departures of Bly and Robert Williams the pasttwo seasons have left the Tar Heels extremely young at cornerback. Three oftheteam’s five cornerbacks are true freshmen.
“We feel like now if a guy is good enough to play as a freshman andcontribute, then we are going to play him,” Torbush added. “There have beenseveral top universities – Florida State, Tennessee – who have playedfreshmen.”
Sophomore quarterback Ronald Curry, also a member of the Tar Heels’perennial powerhouse basketball team, returns along with tailback Rufus Brown,who rushed for a team-high 451 yards last year.
North Carolina (7-5, 5-3 ACC) may be inexperienced, but it holds thehistorical edge. In 103 all-time meetings, the Tar Heels have a 54-45-4advantage.