As we approach the halfway point of the season, both UNC and Virginia Tech enter this match-up having both followed rather enigmatic paths to get here. UNC is 3-2 having outscored their opponents 153-6 at home. The two losses, both on the road and without Giovani Bernard, included poorly played first halves and suspect moments from the defense. Virginia Tech on the other hand has looked shaky from the opener against Georgia Tech where the offense failed to perform for the first three quarters. That was follow by an inexplicable loss to a Pittsburgh team dropped a game to Youngstown State. The Hokies then fell to Cincinnati and are now 3-2 as well.
Needless to say, this game is where no one can say for sure which version of either team will show up. A game that is puzzling right down to the betting line which had UNC go from 1.5 favorites at the open to 5.5/6.0. UNC being favored at home after the way Virginia Tech has played is not that surprising. That the line would take off that way is and adds to the mystery surrounding this game.
For UNC, this match-up provides the Heels with a nice test of both the offensive and defensive units at a stage where it feels like the players have gotten comfortable with the schemes. Despite the fact that the Hokies are only 77th in rushing defense and 29th against the pass, it would not surprise anyone if Virginia Tech is better than the stats indicated. September was a bit of a swoon month for the Hokies and after losing last week, the expectation is for the Hokies' defense to make a statement against an offense built to score points. The flip side to that is Giovani Bernard hasn't really had one of those "wow" games, mostly from lack of opportunity. Two of Bernard's three games came versus Elon and Idaho. The ECU game was a bit lackluster but it was his first back after a two game layoff. This is Bernard's first opportunity against a quality team to show why he was tabbed as a first team All-ACC selection in the preseason.
On the defensive side, UNC will be dealing with Hokie QB Logan Thomas who is big, strong, can pass effectively and is very mobile. When UNC faced Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater it was a nightmare for the same reasons this could be a nightmare against Thomas. Of course at that point, UNC defensive players seemed to be out of sorts in terms of assignments and doing basic things like tackling. The former is progressing nicely, but the latter is still an area of concern. When UNC players have Thomas contained or get a hand on him, it is imperative they finish the job. Otherwise Thomas has the ability to grab yardage in a scramble secondary or find an open man. Virginia Tech has not had a ton of success on the offensive side and it will be incumbent on the Tar Heel defense to keep it that way.
As I noted, this game feels weird. Maybe it is the notion of UNC being a near touchdown favorite against a Virgina Tech team is usually cannot beat(and when it finally does, it doesn't count.) UNC is about to embark on a four game stretch leading up to the bye which includes a road trip to Miami then back-to-back games against Duke and NC State. It would be nice to see UNC start October off with a solid win but something tells me, Virgina Tech is not going to allow that to happen.
Virginia Tech 23 UNC 20