North Carolina vs Virginia Tech, 12:30 PM, ACC Network
It is tough to characterize the fifth game of the season as a must-win but this one probably is for UNC. While winning the Coastal Division appears to be a far off possibility at this point, getting to six wins and qualifying for a bowl is very much in the realm of possibility. With the way UNC's schedule sets up over the final seven games, a loss here would remove almost all margin of error from getting bowl eligible. The Heels face Notre Dame next weekend so a loss here could have the Tar Heels potentially sitting at 2-4 with six games left. That's only slightly better than how the first half of the season opened last season and with a tougher schedule to close out. Needless to say it would behoove the Tar Heels to strike a mark on the right side of the ledger here, especially since the game is at home.
The question(again) going into this game is can the defense stay above water enough to give the offense a shot at posting a winning number of points. Virginia Tech's offense is not world beating material. Hokie QB Michael Brewer has been interception prone throwing nine in five games some of which have been as bizarre as UNC's lack of pass coverage. The Tar Heels, while struggling in pass coverage, have seven interceptions on the season. If UNC is going to give up yardage, a couple of well-timed turnovers could be enough to keep the Hokie offense in check. The Tar Heel defensive line, which played well at Clemson, needs a repeat performance both in stopping the run and getting pressure on Brewer.
On the other side of the ball, Virginia Tech always brings a solid defense and this is no different. The Hokies lead the ACC in sacks with 21 on the season. UNC's offensive line has had plenty of struggles through four games with the Hokies presenting probably their biggest challenge. The return of Landon Turner to the line bolsters the unit which will have its hands full protecting Marquise Williams. Williams, for his part, can use his mobility to mitigate some of the Hokies' pressure. The degree to which UNC can utilize the short passing game and Ryan Switzer in particular could make or break the offense.
The other area of interest is what happens with the running backs. Freshman Elijah Hood had a break out game of sorts against Clemson and should have established himself as the best options to get a bulk of the carriers. However Larry Fedora was still non-commital about putting the load on just one player. Fedora indicated they would continue to seek the "hot hand" during any given game though Hood's style of running might be ideal given the issues the offensive line has blocking at times.
UNC needs a win and most importantly needs to truly move past the defensive disasters of the past two games, post a win and hope for a run of winning football similar to last season's.
UNC 27 Virginia Tech 21