On October 21, the Tar Heels will travel to Lane Stadium to face off against the Virginia Tech Hokies. You may not want to believe this, but the storylines coming out of Blacksburg are eerily similar to those coming out of Chapel Hill. When reading the headlines without context, you wouldn’t be able to pick which team one would be referencing. Both teams are going through a bit of an offensive identity crisis and the defenses are tasked with carrying the team.
Similar Storyline #1 - Quarterback:
Much like Coach Fedora, Coach Fuente is going through the process of pegging down his starting quarterback. None of the five eligible quarterbacks on the Virginia Tech roster have any meaningful Division I experience (Ryan Willis, a junior transfer played his first two seasons for the Kansas Jayhawks and is ineligible for this season).
As it sits, the Hokies seem to have a heated battle between redshirt-freshman Josh Jackson, JUCO transfer A.J. Bush, and redshirt-sophomore Jack Click. There’s also reason to believe that true freshman Hendon Hooker (from Greensboro, NC) and redshirt-freshman Chase Mummau could compete for a backup role.
Transfer that storyline over to Chapel Hill and it doesn’t change much, except the names. The Tar Heels have plenty of talent on the roster. Graduate transfer Brandon Harris and sophomore Nathan Elliot (the only Tar Heel QB with any game experience in this offense) seem to be the clear front-runners, but redshirt freshmen Logan Byrd and Chazz Surratt, have both shown signs that they could snag the job as well.
It seems that junior Manny Miles and freshman Jack Davidson are destined for scout team snaps.
Similar Storyline #2 – Receiving:
The Hokies aren’t revamping their receiving game quite like the Tar Heels, but they are replacing some key pieces in WR Isaiah Ford, RB Sam Rogers, and TE Bucky Hodges— three of the top six in receptions a season ago. The Hokies are returning their second leading receiver in junior Cam Phillips.
While Phillips is slated to be the number one receiver, there are questions about who will be alongside of him. Redshirt-junior wideout C. J. Carroll seems to be the next in line. TE Chris Cunningham and RB Travon McMillian also look to make more of an impact in the receiving game.
Carolina, however, seems to be in a complete overhaul of their receiving game. Gone are Ryan Switzer, Mack Hollins, Bug Howard, Elijah Hood, and T.J. Logan—five of the top six in receptions last season. Only Austin Proehl and Thomas Jackson are returning with double-digit receptions.
TE’s Brandon Fritts, Carl Tucker, and Jake Bargas are expected to play a larger role in the receiving game. Carolina has plenty of depth at the wideout position with Toe Groves, Anthony Ratliff-Williams, and Juvall Mollette all expected to see playing time. Also, if previous years are an indication, the running backs could see a large portion of the receptions. However, unlike Virginia Tech, that position battle is wide open for the Tar Heels.
Similar Storyline #3 – Defense is Key:
While the offense goes through a renovation, the Hokies defense (aside from the defensive line) remains largely intact. Three defensive line starters are gone, and the fourth (DE Vinny Mihota) has had a continuous battle with injuries. Key reserves from last season, Tim Settle and Ricky Walker, look poised to step into starting roles.
The linebackers and secondary will almost be a replica of what they had last year, returning starting LB’s Andrew Motuapuaka and Tremaine Edmunds, CB’s Greg Stroman, Adonis Alexander, and Brandon Facyson, along with Safety Terrell Edmunds. It is expected that the defense will need to stand tall while the offense goes through their growth as a unit.
Carolina is experiencing that same phenomenon for the first time in Larry Fedora’s career in Chapel Hill. As the offense finds its way, this experienced defense must hold the line.
The Tar Heels lost key starters in Nazair Jones and Des Lawrence, but bring back a slew of talent with DE’s Malik Carney, Aaron Crawford, and Dajuan Drennon, LB’s Andre Smith, Cayson Collins, and Cole Holcomb, and safety Donnie Miles. Newcomers Dazz Newsome and Jake Lawler, along with redshirt-freshman Tomon Fox look to make a big impression.
Virginia Tech holds the upper hand in the series at 21-12-6, but the Hokies are only 4-3 when the game is in Blacksburg.
In 2015, Carolina’s previous trip to Blacksburg, the Tar Heels came into the game with a lot on the line. Carolina was in the middle of a nine-game win-streak and was undefeated in the ACC at 6-0. A win would clench the ACC Coastal Division and send them to the ACC championship game.
The Hokies also had plenty of emotion built into the game as this would be Frank Beamer’s last home game of his 29-year career. The Tar Heels held a 14-point lead with under three minutes to go. Virginia Tech would not go out quietly as they forced a fumble and subsequently tied the game with just over a minute left. In overtime, Carolina’s defense forced a Virginia Tech field goal. A Marquise Williams to Quinshad Davis touchdown sealed the victory (and the Coastal Championship) for the Tar Heels.
Last season was the first meeting between the two programs when both were ranked in the AP top 25; North Carolina entered the game ranked 17th while Virginia Tech was ranked 25th. Nothing went well for the Tar Heels that day.
It began when Mitch Trubisky’s streak of 243-passes without an interception was broken. After the teams traded field goals, Virginia Tech pushed their lead further. A fumble and a botched punt set up two Hokie touchdowns. Many folks will remember this game as the one when Hurricane Matthew, along with the Hokies, stormed into Chapel Hill and left the Tar Heels devastated with a 34-3 loss.
Recently, the Tar Heels unveiled their new Jumpman uniforms. During that reveal, it was shown that the new practice helmets would have the famous Jumpman silhouette on the side. This seemed to break Twitter all kinds of ways and the Hokies got in on the action:
This has all the markings of being a defensive slugfest. Neither offense will light it up and the first team to 21 will win. The Hokies tie the game at 17 in the fourth quarter and Brandon Harris takes the Heels on a final drive and finds Austin Proehl with the game winner to recreate the magic of 2015. 24-17 Carolina wins in dramatic fashion.