Time will bear out what I am about to write but this could very well be the game we all look back at as the one where Butch Davis and the program got over the hump. One week after a crushing loss in their first ever home game on Thursday night, the Heels traveled to Blacksburg facing an unenviable situation. Playing against Virginia Tech in Lane Stadium on ESPN with the Hokies coming off a loss everyone assumed, myself included that this would be a ho-hum affair. UNC would show up, make a few decent drives but ultimately be roughed up at the line by the Hokie defense who would squeeze some points out a few turnovers giving VT enough for the win.
Welcome to the wackiness of the ACC.
First off, T.J. Yates. For all the nasty things literally thrown his way not to mention criticism upon criticism as recently as the 2nd half of this game, the junior stepped up in the 2nd half and led this team on two-time prolific drives. The 2nd of those drives tied the game and included Yates completing a pass on 3rd and 7 to extend the drive. Three plays later, Butch Davis opted to not make the same mistake as a week ago when he chose to punt it away near midfield but instead goes for it on 4th and 7. Yates again delivered hitting Greg Little for 19 yards. UNC went on to tie the game but in the process Yates atoned for the atrocious INT that resulted in UNC giving the lead away in the first place. In short Yates and the offense did their job, especially Little who finally is showing signs of the brilliance we thought he had in him. It was nice to see the offense keep up their end of the bargain on the same night the defense kept up theirs. From the drive that opened up the 7-0 lead before the half to the 2nd TD on a drive that included so many wrinkles in the playcalling, much maligned UNC offensive coordinator John Shoop should absolutely be congratulated for making all the right adjustments in this game. UNC was not afraid to use anyone and everyone to catch passes and run the football. When the run was stagnant in the first half, Ryan Houston was used as a blunt object to punish the Hokie defense. That seemed to open things up for Shaun Draughn and even Little saw some time rushing the football. Shoop chose to use a variety of misdirections in an effort to keep the ball moving on the ground and it worked. The mixture of rushing plays was enough to throw the Hokies off balanced which in turn eventually bought Yates time to work.
The defense was outstanding. It was incredible to see both units play well at the same time. The defense that got run over in the 2nd half of last week's game against FSU not only showed up in both halves but shrugged off a couple of tough scoring drives by Virginia Tech to eventually make the big play in recovering a Ryan Williams fumble to setup Casey Barth for the game winner. UNC collected three sacks on the very mobile Tyrod Taylor to go along with six tackles for a loss. Ultimately the defense came up when it counted the most. Even the two Virginia Tech TDs came on late down conversions and where both borderline calls. The Heels lived up to their defensive reputation holding the 17th ranked rushing offense in the country to 95 yards, well below the 203 ypg the Hokies came in averaging. Only two teams this season have held VT below 100 yards rushing in a game. Nebraska and #2 Alabama.
This game was perfect redemption after the way the Heels fell last week. Of course now last week's loss sticks in the craw a bit but given that FSU was winnable and this was considered a sure loss, UNC is exactly where they would have been anyway had it come according to expectation. Now the Heels only need to get two more wins to qualify for a bowl game. Of the four games left, three of them are winnable versus Duke, BC and NC State. Butch Davis is 2-0 versus Miami and the Canes come to Chapel Hill. If the defense plays as well as it did in Blacksburg, winning against Miami is certainly possible. The key for UNC is to ride the momentum of this game and play some consistent football the rest of the way.
It is amazing what a difference one week makes or simply winning a big game like this does to the outlook on the season. Additionally, UNC has two extra days to prepare for Duke. Time will certainly tell if this is the watershed win UNC fans were looking for to move the program forward but now it feels good to get a huge win in football.