The UNC defense hurried Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas eight times on Saturday. ROBERT WILLETT
CHAPEL HILL — And welcome to the day after the most impressive victory of Larry Fedora’s young coaching tenure at North Carolina: his team’s 48-34 victory against Virginia Tech on Saturday at Kenan Stadium.
No, the Hokies aren’t as good as they have been. Yes, they’re off to their worst start since 1993. No, they probably won’t win 10 games for the ninth consecutive season. But, as Fedora said on Saturday, Virginia Tech “is Virginia Tech.” And we know what that means. Virginia Tech, despite all its early-season struggles, is still a brand-name program with plenty of talent. And so this is indeed a signature victory, even if this isn’t a signature Virginia Tech team.
After a slow start on offense for UNC, the game turned on the first play of the second quarter. After considering punting on a 4th-and-1 from his own 38-yard line, Fedora elected to go for it. The Heels handed off to Giovani Bernard, and he ran untouched for a 62-yard touchdown that gave UNC the lead for good. I wrote about that moment, and Fedora’s decision to go for it, in this story right here.
Another story you should check out from yesterday is that about Sean Tapley’s emergence. He started one game last season and one pass came his way. He dropped it. Now, though, he’s as confident as he has been since arriving at UNC and why not? He had a 94-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and a 19-yard touchdown reception yesterday.
Onto the day-after review:
Three quick things to take away from North Carolina 48, Virginia Tech 34:
1. This is a program-building win. Make no mistake about it, this victory is the kind that can help Fedora build something. It will help inspire confidence among his current players. It will help attract new ones.
2. Enjoy watching Giovani Bernard while you can.
How good was Bernard on Saturday? During one nine-carry stretch that began with his 62-yard touchdown run and ended with his 51-yard run that set up another touchdown, he averaged 24.5 yards per carry. That’s ridiculous. If he stays healthy, Bernard will leave UNC as one of the best running backs in school history. The only question is when he leaves. For those of us who like watching college, hope it’s a while.
3. There’s still plenty to work on.
As well as UNC played on Saturday – and it was the Heels’ most complete performance to date – there’s a lot to clean up. The Tar Heels committed a season-high 15 penalties, and that was just one short of the school record. Imagine how lopsided this would have been without those miscues.
UNC and Virginia Tech were tied at 14 at the end of the first quarter, and the Tar Heels faced a 4th-and-1 on their own 38-yard line. Fedora’s first instinct was to punt. But members of his offensive line urged him to reconsider. In the time between the end of the first quarter and the start of the second, he changed his mind and decided to go for it. Good call. On the next play, Bernard ran for a 62-yard touchdown. The Heels never trailed again.
1. Bernard. His 262 yards were the fifth-most in school history, and the most for one player against a Frank Beamer-coached Virginia Tech team.
2. Sean Tapley. His 94-yard kickoff return for a touchdown tied the game at 7-7 early in the first quarter, and then he added a 19-yard touchdown reception in the third quarter. He has four touchdowns in his past three games.
3. Kevin Reddick. UNC’s linebacker finished with seven tackles, including 2.5 for loss. He was credited with half of a sack, and also added a quarterback hurry.
Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas received a lot of attention entering this game, and rightfully so. He stands about 6-foot-6, weighs about 250 pounds, and UNC hadn’t seen a quarterback like him all season. In fact, Fedora said the Heels had just two defensive players as big as Thomas. He threw for 354 yards and two touchdowns, but the Heels did a good job defending him overall. UNC sacked Thomas just once, but hurried him eight times, and those hurries contributed to rushed throws – many of which fell incomplete.
After consecutive home games, the Heels next week at Miami will play the first of back-to-back road games. UNC has lost its past two games against the Hurricanes, and last won in Sun Life Stadium in 2008. This is the second of three consecutive divisional games for the Heels, whose goal is to finish atop the Coastal.