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Game Preview: #17 UNC at Virginia Tech

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Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

North Carolina at Virginia Tech, 12:00 PM, ESPN

To borrow a tennis term, UNC has double championship point for the Coastal Division. One win in the next two games clinches the Coastal for the Tar Heels and secures a date on December 5th versus Clemson in Charlotte.

To get there UNC will need to earn it in either this week or the next. A schedule that called for games in Blacksburg and Raleigh has converged with highly emotional elements to create two very tough challenges. This week it is the final home game for long time and beloved Hokie coach Frank Beamer. Next week is a rivalry game versus NC State which would be the Super Bowl for the Wolfpack. Preventing UNC from winning the Coastal Division(assuming Pitt keeps winning) would probably mean more to the Wolfpack than whatever bowl game NC State ends up in later next month.

For now it is Virginia Tech and a team highly motivated to send Beamer out at home with a win. Believe it or not it probably represents the better opportunity for UNC to wrap up the division business this week versus next. While the emotional storm swirling around Beamer's swan song at home is fairly daunting, demons are in charge of rivalry games, especially when there is a season to spoil. In that respect, whatever happens in Blacksburg on Saturday might be more manageable.

For UNC it is a simple matter of continuing to figure out what works and pounding that on the offensive side of the ball. UNC is so well balanced offensively and possesses such a long list of weapons, it is very difficult for an opposing defense to key in on just one. Couple that with the Tar Heels not committing turnovers, UNC becomes a very difficult team to beat. In the end, turnovers might be Virgina Tech's best hope since stopping UNC via other methods simply might not be enough.

On the other side of the ball, UNC's rush defense is still plenty vulnerable. The Hokies have discovered an effective running back in the form of Travon McMillian. The freshman tailback has gone over 100 yards in three straight games and had rushing totals of 96 and 99 in the two games prior to the current streak. The Hokies have not been afraid to saddle McMillian with a huge workload. Over the past three games, McMillian has averaged 28 carries per game for a 4.4 yards per carry average. One of those 100 yard games came against the vaunted Boston College defense though McMillian needed 33 carries to do it.

Virginia Tech's ability to rush the football is crucial. Consistent rushing yards allows the Hokies to burn clock and keep the potent Tar Heel offense off the field. Add a couple of UNC miscues to the mix and suddenly this is an ugly, brutal affair which the Hokies could win.

To prevent that, the Tar Heels will simply need to play with the same quick strike dominance in the first half it has over the past three games. Seizing control early takes the crowd out of the game. The degree of difficulty will be a tad higher given the circumstances but if UNC is a team that truly belongs in the conversation as a possible CFP dark horse candidate, losing this game is not an option,

UNC 38 Virginia Tech 24