The effects of Hurricane Matthew, as well as a stout Virginia Tech defense, completely halted the high-flying UNC offense. After two straight weeks of exciting offensive play and thrilling final moments, the Tar Heels got stuck in the mud for four quarters in a deflating blowout loss to the Hokies. There was no opportunity for a last-second win this time around.
Many pundits were surprised to see Virginia Tech in the top 25 poll this week. But the Hokies certainly earned that ranking and have one of the conference’s formidable defenses after manhandling one of the conference’s most potent offensive attacks. The Tar Heel defense did show some mettle throughout, however, when UNC isn’t scoring, the defense is only going to do so much.
The first half got off to an unbelievably slow start, as neither quarterback could find a rhythm amidst the nonstop rain and periodic gusts of wind. The Hokies couldn’t get much going on offense, and the Tar Heel defense routinely stuffed VT quarterback Jerod Evans for short gains. Surprisingly, the typically suspect defense wasn’t the issue.
Turnovers, however, quickly became a problem, in part due to the weather. On UNC’s second possession of the game, Mitch Trubisky threw his first interception of the season—after 243 straight passes without such a mistake—and Virginia Tech was able to turn that pick into a field goal on the other end. A Khris Francis fumble on the next Carolina drive resulted in another VT field goal.
The Heels got a few breaks in the second quarter, recovering two Hokie fumbles, one of which came in the red zone. Unfortunately, the Heels still couldn’t get their prolific passing offense rolling and had to settle for a short field goal by last week’s hero Nick Weiler.
Then, just before the half and coming entirely out of nowhere, Evans connected with Bucky Hodges on a 28-yard pass on the sideline. It was easily the longest play of the half for either team. One play later, Evans tossed a short pass to Chris Cunningham for the game’s first touchdown, taking a 13-3 lead into the half.
The second half was where things completely fell apart. A Trubisky fumble cut short a promising opening drive by the Heels, and Evans promptly found his fullback—YES HIS FULLBACK—Sam Rogers for a 22-yard score on the next play. The ensuing Tar Heel possession saw punter Tom Sheldon muff the punt, and the Hokies tackled him at the four-yard line. A few plays later, Evans found the end-zone on fourth and short, giving Virginia Tech a commanding 27-3 lead early in the third quarter.
Later in the 3rd, Virginia Tech had a punting miscue of its own. The Heels took over at the VT 43-yard line but, again, they couldn’t get anything going on offense. Four plays later, Trubisky horribly overthrew Proehl on fourth down, and UNC’s offensive ineptitude continued.
To add insult to injury, the very next Hokies possession saw another punting mishap, as the ball flew past punter Mitchell Ludwig. But there was no pressure on the punt, and he had more than enough time for a decent punt. That kind of play—a mishap that the Heels couldn’t take advantage of while every other Heels mistake condemned them—sums up the frustrating afternoon pretty well.
The fourth quarter was more of the same, as the Hokies controlled the time of possession with a steady running game and even picked off Trubisky again on a poor throw. In the end, the Heels could not even get a touchdown, and the Hokies came away with a dominant 34-3 win in rainy Chapel Hill.
Mitch Trubisky, who had been getting some Heisman consideration recently, had his worst game as the starting quarterback for North Carolina. In a game he’ll want to immediately forget, he went 13 for 33 for 58 yards (a truly incredible 1.8 yards per throw), two interceptions, and a fumble. The Switzer connection was nonexistent, too; the elusive wideout finished with just two catches for two yards. It’s almost mind boggling how bad those stats are considering the run the two had been on lately.
Meanwhile, the rushing attack missed the presence of Elijah Hood and still suffered at the hands of poor play-calling. Hood was absent for the game after leaving against FSU last week. T.J. Logan did fine in his absence (14 carries for 67 yards) but was only given one drive in the third quarter to really make an impact (42 total yards on that drive).
The combination of Logan, Francis, and even Jordon Brown was basically a nonentity in this game (73 total rushing yards for the team). Time after time, the coaching staff confuses fans, alumni, and critics by forgetting about the running game and opting for high-volume passing no matter the circumstances. Those criticisms will be full-throated once again.
This is a brutal loss for Carolina’s division title aspirations. The Heels face a good Miami team down in Florida next week and now have a loss against one of their biggest competitors in the Coastal Division. UNC no longer controls its destiny in possibly returning to the ACC Championship Game.
Seeing the offense play this kind of game was shocking, to say the least. The entire group came crashing back down to earth after some record-breaking performances and, hopefully, this game is more of an anomaly. It’s tempting to say the weather had a lot to do with it. But, honestly, the second half showing suggests the offense has bigger problems than just playing in the rain. UNC has a lot of questions about play-calling, finding offensive balance, and back-breaking turnovers to answer before heading to Miami for a crucial division showdown.