North Carolina coach Larry Fedora has challenged his team to respond after a disappointing loss against ECU last week. ROBERT WILLETT
ON THE ROAD TO BLACKSBURG -- Riding up the mountain now. North Carolina plays at Virginia Tech on Saturday. Some things to know:
North Carolina vs. Virginia Tech
Kickoff: 12:30, Lane Stadium, Blacksburg
TV/Radio: ACC Network/WTKK 106.1-FM
PPG (UNC/VT): 25.2/23.2
Allowed (UNC/VT ): 32.5/15.8
ABOUT VIRGINIA TECH (4-1, 1-0 ACC)
It hasn’t always been pretty this season for the Hokies but here they are, a factor again in the Coastal Division. Surprised? You probably shouldn’t be. The offense has been average – or worse, at times – but five games in this looks like a vintage Virginia Tech defense. The Hokies rank fourth nationally in total defense, and are allowing averages of 241.2 yards per game and 3.7 yards per play. This is a veteran, experienced defense. Virginia Tech has six senior starters on defense, and five of those six are among the Hokies’ front seven. Virginia Tech has been especially formidable up front, where defensive ends J.R. Collins and James Gayle have combined for 6.5 sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss. Overall, the Hokies have sacked opposing quarterbacks 17 times and intercepted 11 passes. The Hokies’ secondary will be among the best UNC faces all season, if not the best. Kendall Fuller, the younger brother of Virginia Tech defensive back Kyle Fuller, has a pair of interceptions. The elder Fuller has broken up six passes and intercepted one. Offensively, it has been a struggle at times. The Hokies are averaging just 328.6 yards per game, and 3.9 yards per rushing attempt. Logan Thomas, the senior quarterback, has thrown six interceptions and is completing about 53 percent of his passes.
ABOUT NORTH CAROLINA (1-3, 0-1)
Yes, it’s only early October, but this is basically a must-win for the Tar Heels if they’re to have any hope of winning the Coastal Division. An 0-2 start in conference play wouldn’t come as a huge shock, given the opposition, but it would be magnified because of the shellacking UNC endured against ECU. A loss on Saturday would represent a three-game losing streak, and it’d be fair to question how this team keeps it together going forward. UNC is coming off its worst game under coach Larry Fedora. The Tar Heels made enough mistakes to last half of a season during their 55-31 loss against ECU. What has ailed UNC? Just about everything. The offense hasn’t really found a rhythm in any game all season. The running game has at times been non-existent. Defensively, UNC had 37 missed assignments in the defeat against ECU last weekend and, when the Tar Heels were in a position to make a play, they often failed to do so. This is a team that’s reeling right now, and in desperate need of something good to happen. A victory in Blacksburg would bring an immediate stop to the bleeding, and would likely go a long way towards turning around the season.
3 AND OUT
KEEP AN EYE ON: Virginia Tech cornerback Brandon Facyson. Like Kendall Fuller, Facyson is a freshman who has made an immediate difference in the Hokies’ secondary. Facyson already has four interceptions and he could add to that total – especially if the Hokies pressure Bryn Renner into some rushed throws.
MAGIC NUMBER: 54. That’s how many quarterback hurries Virginia Tech has – an average of more than 10 per game. That doesn’t bode well for a UNC offensive line that has struggled in pass protection.
WHY UNC IS THE UNDERDOG: Several reasons. The simplest: UNC hasn’t been playing well. And Virginia Tech has. Lane Stadium is always difficult on visitors, and the Hokies are coming off a nice victory at Georgia Tech. On paper, UNC matches up poorly in this game.
THREE KEYS FOR UNC
--Avoid a post-ECU hangover. How UNC starts the game on Saturday should tell us a lot about the Tar Heels’ mental state. Will they be sharp? Or will they continue to hang their heads after last week?
--Avoid the meltdown plays on defense. Virginia Tech’s offense has struggled, but the Hokies have shown a quick-strike ability, and even had a long touchdown against Alabama. UNC must force the Hokies to work for their points.
--Don’t give the Hokies a short field. Let’s face it: UNC stands a good chance to turn it over against this defense. At least once. Probably more than once. The Tar Heels need to minimize their mistakes, though.
What is a Hokie?
A turkey? Some other fowl?
A made-up word bird
AND A PREDICTION
Virginia Tech 24, UNC 17
See you in the press box.