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Virginia aims to get off to quicker start offensively against North Carolina

In the first halves of its past two games combined, Virginia has scored seven points and racked up 149 yards of total offense. The Cavaliers offense grew more productive during the second halves of each contest, but not enough to prevent double-digit losses.

As Virginia prepares to host North Carolina at Scott Stadium on Saturday, the Cavaliers understand that, in the words of Offensive Coordinator Bill Lazor, they “have to start the game with a greater sense of urgency.”

Despite competing without a handful of key defensive contributors that are caught up in an agent scandal that has brought on internal and NCAA investigations, North Carolina ranks No. 4 in the Atlantic Coast conference in total defense and held Clemson to 305 total yards Saturday in a 21-16 victory.

“It’s just about execution, coming out ready to play and understanding what is your assignment,” Virginia fifth-year senior quarterback Marc Verica said Monday. “We have to do a better job of that in the first half because the trend is that we’re getting in holes now, so when we come out in the second half, you know, the hole might be too deep to dig ourselves out of. It will definitely be important against UNC to come out and establish something early. Overall, we just have to be more consistent.”

The Cavaliers entered the second half of their Oct. 2 game against Florida State down, 27-0, and having managed 42 total yards. Verica threw for 160 yards and a touchdown in the third quarter, and Virginia ended up compiling 304 total yards in a 34-14 loss.

Virginia’s offensive turnaround transpired in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s 33-21 defeat at Georgia Tech. Of the 239 passing yards Verica registered that game, he threw for 174 in the final period.

“I think in both of those situations, the tempo of our offense had increased,” Verica said of the unit’s second-half performance boosts the past two weeks. “We were trying to go to a two-minute tempo a little bit there. No huddle, just lining up on the ball, get a completion, line up on the ball again, and boom, get another completion. It kind of presents a challenge to the defense where they can’t really change their personnel that well.

“And at that point in the game they could also be playing differently, maybe not as aggressively as in the beginning of the game. It’s good production in the quarter, but those are the kind of numbers that we’d like to see more in the beginning of the game because we need to establish something at the beginning of the game so we’re not in that role and we’re not trying to dig ourselves out of that hole at the end of a game.”

Lazor said after the game Saturday that he needed to adjust his first-half play calling in order to help the team meet that end. Coach Mike London suggested the offense might consider attempting more big plays at the outset of games. Virginia’s passing plan early on during Saturday’s contest consisted mostly of short throws that – when completed – did not gain much yardage. Verica’s longest completion in the first half went for 13 yards.

In the fourth quarter Saturday, Verica threw a 52-yard completion to senior wideout Dontrelle Inman, as well as completions of 39 and 40 yards to junior wide receiver Matt Snyder.

“You know, I think we’re very close,” Snyder said Monday. “We’ve definitely got some work to do, but it’s very close to breaking through. You know, we can talk about getting better and doing more, but it’s really going to take, you know, preparation, practice and then having it transcribe on the game field. Until everybody on this offense takes it personal to get one step better and to go a little bit harder every day, I think that’s when we can really improve.”

By Steve Yanda  | October 11, 2010; 3:05 PM ET
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