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UNC vs. Virginia Tech: What to watch out for

Is there a renewed quarterback controversy stirring in Chapel Hill? Can the defense finally get off of the field?

Virginia Tech v North Carolina Photo by Mike Comer/Getty Images

Just when you want to curl up, pull the covers over your head, and rest your wounds, you find yourself entering a two-week gauntlet. This week, you pick yourself up, dust off your britches, and limp into one of the toughest arenas to play in.

No pressure...

The last time you played this team, there was a hurricane blowing through Chapel Hill, and I’m not talking about the team from Coral Gables. You were embarrassed and now you want revenge.


Your opponent is currently ranked 14th in the nation and is 5-1 on the season with their only loss coming at the hands of a powerhouse. With only one win to look at and a bevy of losses, both in games and personnel, you have been given only a 13% chance to win the match. The betting lines don’t offer any relief as they began by pitting you as a 22-point underdog.

Again, no pressure...

As the Tar Heels travel to Blacksburg to take on the Hokies, there are plenty of storylines swirling around the program. We examine some of them below.

A renewed QB battle

You thought this was settled, huh? This week in his press conference, Coach Fedora alluded to the fact that both Brandon Harris and Chazz Surratt would continue taking reps with the first team and that the best quarterback of the week would get the start.

Harris struggled in his appearance against Virginia last weekend. One has to think, though, after all these weeks with Surrat at the helm, what happened that would lead to Harris surprisingly taking over? On Tuesday, THB writer Roger Burton explored the pros and cons of starting each quarterback.

Virginia v North Carolina Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

A well rested...uhh...I mean tested defense

North Carolina’s inability to keep its offense on the field has led to a defense that wears out as games drive on. On the season, the Tar Heel offense has been on the field for 482 plays on 94 possessions while the defense has been on the field for 553 plays on 91 possessions. The North Carolina offense is averaging just five plays per possession while the defense is on the field for over six plays per possession.

Furthermore, the North Carolina offense is going three-and-out on nearly one-third of its possessions (28.7%). Against the UNC defense, opponents are going three-and-out on only 25% of their possessions. (Taking out the ODU game, these numbers change drastically. UNC has 406 plays on 77 possessions with 24 three-and-outs or 31% of possessions. OPP have 486 plays on 75 possessions with 15 three-and-outs or 20% of possessions.)

North Carolina’s offense is struggling to sustain long drives. For the season, the Tar Heels have only been able to sustain a drive for eight or more plays 15 times this season (or 16% of possessions). On the other hand, the defense has allowed opposing offenses to have 25 sustained drives (or 27% of possessions).

To further show how long the defense has been on the field, simply look at the total time of possession. North Carolina has controlled the ball for a total 176:16 minutes. The defense has been on the field for 243:44 minutes. In seven total hours of game time, the North Carolina defense has seen the field for almost an hour more than the offense.

Virginia Tech is averaging around 32 minutes of possession per game. North Carolina is allowing opposing offenses about 35 minutes of possession per game. North Carolina has only eclipsed the 30-minute mark twice this season. Even so, in both games, North Carolina only controlled the ball for around one minute more than their opponents (30:13-29:47 against Cal; 30:40-29:20 against ODU).

Look to see if Larry Fedora and company try to attack Virginia Tech to force more three-and-outs. If that happens, though, the offense will need to sustain some drives to keep the defense fresh.

Notre Dame v North Carolina Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images