CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP)—It hardly mattered which Virginia running back was carrying the ball. They all found room to run against North Carolina.
Tailbacks Wali Lundy, Alvin Pearman and Michael Johnson and fullback Jason Snelling combined for seven rushing touchdowns Saturday and the 15th-ranked Cavaliers beat the Tar Heels 56-24.
Snelling carried eight times for 80 yards and one touchdown and Lundy 11 times for 78 yards and three scores as the Cavaliers’ offensive line manhandled the Tar Heels’ defensive front.
“We have a saying around here: All running backs look the same when there are no holes,” Virginia coach Al Groh said.
Virginia (2-0, 1-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) put together scoring drives of 77, 68, 97, 79, 90 and 47 yards and finished with 549 total yards, 299 on the ground.
“The holes have been big, man,” Lundy said. “All those guys up front, they’re really playing their hearts out.”
The Cavaliers showed their intent to beat North Carolina (1-1, 0-1) in the trenches early, running for a first down on third-and-5 on their second possession and going for it on fourth-and-1 from their own 30 in the second quarter when they were up 28-10. Pearman ran for 7 yards, then scored from 5 yards out six plays later.
“For coach to believe in us like that shows what he’s all about,” Virginia guard Elton Brown said. “And us converting it, that says a lot too.”
It says a lot about North Carolina’s porous defense, too.
“They have a fine offensive line, but I’m disappointed in the way we played defense,” North Carolina coach John Bunting said. “They had three base runs they ran against us. We couldn’t stop any of them.”
Virginia’s kickoff return team also had a big day. Marquis Weeks, whose school record-tying 100-yard kickoff return sparked Virginia to a 37-27 come-from behind win against the Tar Heels two years ago, repeated the feat Saturday.
“Probably 90 percent of it was blocking,” he said. “I saw a lot of people getting laid out on the cutbacks.”
Weeks’ return came after Darian Durant connected with Derrelle Mitchell on a 7-yard touchdown pass to cut Virginia’s lead to 21-7. He started up the middle, cut left and picked up a wall of blockers to just inside the left pylon.
“That was just instinct,” he said of the cutback.
Pearman nearly matched Weeks’ return with a 93-yard runback in the fourth quarter. He was tripped up by Hilee Taylor at the 1, and he scored from there on the next play.
Groh said he told assistants calling plays from the press box, “I don’t care if he has to crawl in, give Alvin the ball.”
The 238 yards in kickoff returns allowed by North Carolina were the most in school history. The previous high was 209 yards, also by Virginia in 1936.
“I expect we will take a very long, extensive, scrutinizing look at the guys who are covering kickoffs,” Bunting said.
The Tar Heels moved inside the Virginia 10 on two other occasions in the first half but managed only a 22-yard field goal by Connor Barth. The other possession ended at the Virginia 3 when defensive end Chris Canty stuffed Ronnie McGill for a 1-yard loss on fourth down.
“The fourth-down stop down there the first time was particularly imprint,” Groh said. “When you can do that early, that’s a confidence booster.”
North Carolina scored a pair of second-half touchdowns after the game was out of reach. Chad Scott caught a 52-yard touchdown pass from backup quarterback Matt Baker, then scored on a 1-yard run set up by a 46-yard pass from Baker to Daunte Fields.
Virginia even worked in a trick play, a 32-yard flanker pass from Emmanuel Byers to a sliding Michael McGrew on Virginia’s 97-yard touchdown drive. After a 25-yard run by Snelling, Lundy scored standing up from the 8, one of his three first-half touchdowns.