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UNC at Virginia Tech: Game Preview

The second half of the season starts with their toughest test to date.

Virginia Tech v Boston College Photo by Tim Bradbury/Getty Images

After a tough loss to UVA last weekend, the Tar Heels ship up to Blacksburg to take on the 14th ranked Virginia Tech Hokies. Whereas last weekend was a chance for Carolina to double their win total, this weekend a loss seems to be a foregone conclusion. The Hokies are on a march to their November 4th matchup against Miami in a battle for the lead for the Coastal, where Carolina is just looking to build momentum for 2018. A loss would officially end Carolina’s chance for a bowl game, although that’s pretty much assumed to be done anyway.

There’s a reason everyone is assuming Virginia Tech will win this one going away. The Hokies are good, their only loss coming against a Clemson team that needed a short week and an injured quarterback to be beat. Otherwise, they have looked dominant, with a two-touchdown win being their tightest margin of victory so far. The Hokes are also coming off their bye week, meaning Carolina is traveling to Blacksburg coming off a tough loss while the Hokies have had two weeks to rest up and are playing at home. Usually not a recipe for an upset.

North Carolina Offense vs. Virginia Tech Defense

For the second week in a row, the Carolina offense will face a top-30 ranked defense, as Virginia Tech checks in at 23rd for the season so far. They aren’t doing it by sacking the quarterback, as they are only getting about two sacks a game, but they will keep you out of the end zone, ranking seventh in total scoring defense. They also keep you from getting first downs, ranking tenth in first downs allowed. They are lethal on third down, ranking fifth in the country in third down conversions.

It’s really death by a thousand cuts with Virginia Tech, as they are allowing over 100 yards a game on the ground but have completely shut down opponents in the air, holding opponents to under 200 yards a game passing. This does not bode well for a team that is still trying to figure out who their starting quarterback is and who hasn’t had a receiver step up as a clear number one.

The front line for the Hokies is anchored by Tremaine Edumunds, their leader in tackles for the season so far with 50 and two forced fumbles so far, and is looking to make First Team All-ACC. The defense really is a team effort, as second place for tackles is cornerback Mook Reynolds, and linebacker Andrew Motuapuaka is third. No one has more than one interception, and seventeen players have a tackle for loss to their credit. Seven players have over 20 tackles so far.

It just doesn’t bode well for Carolina, as they fell to 98th in total offense for the season after being 89th last weekend. The lone bright spot on offense last weekend happens to be where Virginia Tech shows a weakness, the rushing game. Virginia Tech is ranked 31st in total rushing defense, and while Brandon Harris…struggled…passing last weekend, Carolina found some success using him on the option, getting ahead of the chains and opening their chances against Virginia. Against a team that has an outstanding third down defense, staying ahead of the chains is a must. Michael Carter rekindled the spark Carolina saw out of him in the first game of the year, and it’ll be interesting to see if Fedora tries to exploit the one weak point in the Hokies’ D in order to have a chance.

North Carolina Defense vs Virginia Tech Offense

For the first time in a few weeks, Carolina faces a team that gets their offense primarily through the air versus the ground. The Hokies rank 26th in the air attack, and only 55th on the ground. No Hokies rusher has more than 300 yards for the year on the ground. This is good news for a Carolina defensive front missing Tyler Powell, Andre Smith, Jordan Riley, Jalen Dalton, and Dominique Ross. The front will be able to concentrate more on providing pressure on redshirt freshman quarterback Josh Jackson.

Jackson has had a great first campaign so far, throwing for 1700 yards halfway through the year, and thirteen touchdowns versus only four interceptions. His primary target for those receptions has been senior Cam Phillips, by far the team leader with 608 yards on 42 receptions. The runner-up Sean Savoy has only 337 yards on 27 receptions, so it boils down to a real chance for All-ACC candidate MJ Stewart and KJ Sails to lock down the secondary to give Carolina a real chance.

It’s been great to see Sails’ development this year, and one wonders if the attrition up front will force Fedora to cheat Stewart more on blitzes, or if he’d rather make sure Jackson’s best receiver can’t get a pass. The redshirt freshman has been solid so far, but if the field isn’t open there’s a chance it could force him into some panicked throws, giving Carolina at least a chance.

The defense gave the offense a chance to win last weekend, and was in it all the way until the end forcing the fumble on third and long. They will need a similar effort this weekend to even sniff a chance.

In the end, Lane Stadium and the Hokies are too much for Carolina. I think they cover, but ultimately fall short, 28-14