After another fantastic win last week, the No. 17 Tar Heels will take on the No. 25 Hokies in a battle of Coastal Division contenders. Coming off a bye week, Virginia Tech has a 3-1 record with one conference win against UNC’s 4-1 record and two conference wins. North Carolina has already passed their toughest test with FSU, but this game won’t be easy.
Be advised that this will be a tricky game for all those involved. While Hurricane Matthew is on the verge of hitting the coast of Florida, wind and rain is reaching far up the East Coast, and could become a factor on Saturday. This will make throwing the ball and kicking the ball much less exact than it normally is, so don’t be surprised if there are multiple incomplete passes or missed field goals.
These game conditions could end up hurting North Carolina more than Virginia Tech because of the way their quarterbacks handle the ball. Mitch Trubisky relies more on passing, while Hokies quarterback Jerod Evans has a tendency to run the ball down the field.
Coming off a 453-yard career-high game against Pitt, and following it up with 405-yard effort against Florida State, Mitch Trubisky has launched himself into the Heisman conversation. At this point in the season, he shows up all over the leaderboards. He’s first in pass completion percentage, sixth in total passing yards, sixth in passing efficiency rating, seventh in total yards, tied for seventh in total touchdowns, and ninth in passing yards per attempt. He’s become the legitimate weapon that many knew he could be if given regular playing time.
It’s probably easy to assume that North Carolina’s offense lives and dies with their quarterback, but that would be ignoring the important contributions of the entire unit. Part of the reason Trubisky has been so successful is that he has a talented group he’s throwing to. Last week, Ryan Switzer brought in 14 receptions for 158 yards against the Seminoles, and in total he leads the offense with 587 receiving yards at 12.5 yards per reception. T.J. Logan, Mack Hollins, Elijah Hood, Austin Proehl, and Bug Howard are all having fantastic years as well, making it a real group effort.
As for the team’s defense, we all know the story by now. The Tar Heels defensive line has looked relatively porous against opponents of all caliber this year. They allowed 595 yards against FSU, but still managed to win because the offense has to carry the team. At times it feels like this unit can’t make a stop, but it hasn’t been all bad.
The defense turned it on against Pittsburgh in the fourth quarter, allowing only three points in order to set up the comeback win. They also did a great job against Florida State, blanking them in the first quarter, and limiting them to 14 points in the next two quarters. This effort was enough to keep them from taking back the game when FSU scored 21 points in the fourth quarter. We’ve seen them do good things, now it’s just a matter of getting them to be consistent over one game.
It’s important to point out that, despite their record, Virginia Tech has yet to beat a top ranked team. They have beaten Liberty, Boston College, and East Carolina, none of which are especially good teams, and they were defeated very soundly to the ranked Tennessee Volunteers.
Come to think of it, if you look at the margins their games have been decided by (36-13, 45-24, 49-0, 54-17), it’s clear that Virginia Tech has not proven anything when it comes to close, tough games like the kind that North Carolina has proven to perform well in. Watch for how the Hokies keep it together if this game ends up being close in the end. UNC’s experience in these conditions could give them an important edge if it comes down to it.
One other factor to keep an eye on is junior quarterback Jerod Evans. After transferring from community college, Evans doesn’t have much in the way of experience, but he comes highly regarded throughout college football. Virginia Tech head coach Justin Fuente was so impressed by what he saw that Evans was picked as the starting quarterback over several more seasoned options.
Even with his lack of experience, Virginia Tech’s offense has had no problem moving the football and scoring in the early goings of the season. Evans matches Mitch Trubisky with a 9.4 yards per attempt, but falls short with a 67% completion rate. He is much more of a running quarterback than Trubisky is, as he’s rushed for 209 yards against Trubisky’s 56. Evans is actually only three yards shy of his team’s leading rusher Travon McMillan, so you can see how serious he is about running the ball. UNC will have to watch him on the run and keep him from sneaking through the line.
One other Hokie to watch out for will be return specialist Greg Stroman, who has proven to be unstoppable against special teams. So far this season, he has 249 yards on kick returns, averaging 22.6 yards per return. On punts, he’s returned 166 yards at an average of 13.8 yards per return, and he’s scored one touchdown. North Carolina special teams will be challenged by him all day.
UNC will win if they
Continue what they have been doing on the passing game
Virginia Tech will win if they
Stop Evans from running the ball