After playing two weeks of uninspiring performances by the Heels, the going does not get any easier with a trip from Virginia Tech. The Hokies have seen both high highs and low lows this season. Following up a resounding victory against then #5 Ohio State with consecutive home losses which featured five interceptions from new quarterback Michael Brewer. The Hokies have played decently in their games so far and this appears to be a critical game for each team, the loser will drop to 0-2 in ACC play and almost certainly be out of the running for a Coastal Division title.
The Hokies offense runs through the their quarterback Brewer, the junior transfer from Texas Tech. So far this season, his performance has been erratic at best. Brewer comes into the game having thrown more interceptions than touchdowns (9 TD 10 INT), completing 61.1% of his passes for 6.34 yards per attempt and having taken seven sacks this season. His recent performances have been considerably worse, he only completed 14 passes on 32 attempts (43.8%) for 178 yards his fewest total of the season. He also threw two interceptions against Western Michigan, a week after throwing three against Georgia Tech. Brewer has not had a game this year in which he has not thrown an interception, good news for a Carolina defense that has won the turnover battle in each of its wins this year.
The Hokie passing game is methodical but not flashy. They have not had a play in the passing game go for more than 40 yards yet this season. The Hokie offense could look better this game, UNC has allowed 44 points per contest, the 3rd worst among all FBS schools in the nation, the two defense worse than the Heels are SMU and Eastern Michigan. SMU has played Texas A&M and Baylor and Eastern Michigan has traveled to Florida and to Michigan State. Since the Heels have not played anywhere near that type of schedule, this game could breathe more life into the Hokie passing game.
The Hokies have an average run game. They have rushed for 873 yards on 196 attempts so far this season, an average of 4.46 yards per carry, producing seven touchdowns. The run game is also not particularly explosive, the longest run of the year was for 42 yards and only eight have gone for more than 20. The Hokies have multiple backs but no set workhorse and just lost second leading rush Shai McKenzie to a torn ACL. Virginia Tech has not had the same running back lead them in rush yards for consecutive games yet this year. That will change since Marshawn Williams is the only Hokie running back available with more than 20 carries on the season. Overall Frank Beamer's team is a balanced in terms of play calling, there have been 193 pass attempts and 196 rushes so far this year. The key to stopping the run will be for the defensive line to plug up gaps and get a good push up field.
The best unit on the Hokies is their defense, specifically the pass rush. Virginia Tech is tied for first in the nation with 21 sacks this season. Virginia Tech has also forced seven turnovers through five games, not an incredible number but a respectable one. The Heels will have to protect their quarterbacks in this game. The best way to do this would be to run screens and quick slant routes to Ryan Switzer. These create the added benefit of being tremendous offensive weapons that can force the Hokies to back off the line of scrimmage, giving the Heels more time to attack down the field to Quinshad Davis and Mack Hollins. According to Norm Wood at the Daily Press, Virginia Tech leads all Power 5 conference teams in 20+ yard plays surrendered with 32(UNC is second with 29.) The opportunity certainly presents itself for UNC to hit some bigger plays against the Hokie defense.
The Weekly Assignments:
1) Get the defense off the field. The Heels need to force fourth downs or cause turnovers. When the Heels have won the turnover battle they've won the game. Forcing punts give Ryan Switzer more chances to do Ryan Switzer things. These also come with the added benefit of taking the third worst scoring defense in the country off the field.
2) Score a lot and often. The Heels' offense is one of the better units in the nation and Virginia Tech has struggled to put up points a lot this season (never scoring more than 35 points) if the Heels can score a lot and frequently this game is winnable.
3) Keep the Virgina Tech rushing offense unproductive. The Heels played well against Clemson's running attack, forcing the Hokies to throw more and for Brewer to step up and make plays. So far this year when Brewer has been forced to step up he has not been very successful. Limiting the run game would go a long way towards making this game easier for the Heels.