Logan Thomas of the Virginia Tech Hokies scores a touchdown against Rashaad Reid of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
You'd think with ten games in the books I'd have a handle on Virginia Tech. But they're the most confounding team in the ACC at the moment. Part of the is their schedule, which hasn't really tested them. They've played three teams with winning records, and one of them is Sun Belt conference leader Arkansas State. Tech, even in their wins, has a strange tendency to disappear in some games. So can Carolina derail their postseason hopes?
The Hokies have once again built their offense around a strong running game and a mobile quarterback. Their featured back is David Wilson, the current ACC rushing leader. He didn't see the field in last year's game against Carolina, but having graduated to the starter's role this season, expect to see a lot of him. And I have my doubts on UNC's prospects for stopping him. Early in the season, the Heels' run defense was unstoppable – remember the shut down of Rutgers? – but of late, they've struggled a bit. Brandon Pendergrass was averaging over seven yards a carry before the score forced Wake to go solely through the air, and James Washington had the second best game of his career against the Heels. Neither are in Wilson's league, and he has a better line in front of him.
Tech's line has stymied opponents, giving up the fewest sacks in the ACC outside of Virginia. That has allowed Logan Thomas time to mature under center, which he has. After throwing five interceptions in the first five games, he's only thrown two since, both against Duke. He's started running with ball more, and throwing more touchdown passes. Even Frank Beamer now sees him as the key to the offense:
"When our quarterback is playing well -- of course he played well the last outing -- I think it allows us to be a good running team and be a good throwing football team. That's what we've always strived for, to be able to do both. That's what the really good teams do, they can run it and they can throw it. I think we're getting closer to that. As long as Logan plays well, I think we'll keep going in that direction, and we have every belief he will continue to play well."
UNC's secondary, although showing signs of life in the last few games, has been a problem this season. Add to that Carolina's tendency to change their defense when facing a mobile quarterback – against Tyrod Taylor they always focused on containment, sometimes to their detriment – and Thomas could have one of his best passing games. Or, like against ECU, Duke, and Clemson, he and the offense could flounder.
The problem for UNC is the Hokies' defense. They lead the ACC in sacks, and unlike Thomas, Bryn Renner has been less than mobile. They're second in the conference in interceptions, and tops in defensive pass efficiency. This puts a lot of the offense onto Giovanni Bernard's shoulders, and although he can handle it, Tech also has the second best rushing defense in the ACC. In fact, it's the rare defensive statistical category where the Hokies aren't first or second in the conference.
Which isn't to say they can't have lapses. Miami put up 35 points, on a strong running game from Lamar Miller and some deep passes the secondary fell asleep on. The good news is this the type of offense UNC plays, with a strong running game and the occasional deep scoring pass. And that's what Carolina is going to have to do in Blacksburg, play one of their best games of the season. They've had ten days to put an embarrassing loss to State behind them, and they've beaten Tech here on a Thursday before. Too often this season the team hasn't lived up to expectations' let's see if they can do so here.