UNC's defense will be tested by Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas. ROBERT WILLETT
CHAPEL HILL — North Carolina hosts Virginia Tech on Saturday at Kenan Stadium (12:30) in what will be the Tar Heels’ first ACC divisional game of the season. It will also represent UNC’s most difficult test to date, players and coaches say.
With that in mind, here’s a little q-and-a with myself – or, in other words, a segment I like to call, “three questions:”
1. How will the Tar Heels defend Logan Thomas?
Thomas, the Virginia Tech quarterback, is large. He’s listed at about 6-foot-6 and 250 pounds. He entered the season as an ACC Player of the Year candidate. I asked Fedora who had been playing the role of Thomas on the Heels’ scout team this week.
Fedora said: “We don’t have anybody that can fit that role, so the guy’s doing it is about me and your size. So not much we can do about it. I don’t think it’s going to do us any good to tackle Kareem Martin all week in practice at quarterback.”
We can take a couple things from this: One, Fedora thinks me and him are the same size. That might be true, if I gained about 50 pounds of muscle. Second, and more important, there’s no real way to prepare to defend a player with Thomas’ size and skill set.
As good as Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater was against UNC earlier this season, Thomas will present a more difficult physical challenge. He’s completing only 52.5 percent his passes, hasn’t thrown for more than 265 yards and has thrown five interceptions in the Hokies’ two losses (and six interceptions overall).
But Thomas is one of those guys who is, eventually, going to have a monster game.
2. Are the Hokies really this mediocre?
After five games, Virginia Tech is 3-2. The Hokies inexplicably suffered a 35-17 loss against Pittsburgh, which was humiliated in the first week by Youngstown State, and then blown out the following week at Cincinnati. The same Cincinnati team that gave the Hokies their second loss.
More often than not during their past eight seasons, all of which have ended with at least 10 victories, the Hokies have been good at two things more than any other: Defense and rushing offense. Entering Saturday, though, Tech’s rushing offense ranks 77th nationally while the defense is 53rd.
Those are atypical numbers for a program that has been one of college football’s most consistent during the past decade. A few things happened that help explain the Hokies (relative) struggles: For one, three running backs from the past two seasons are now in the NFL. The team’s top two receivers from a season ago are no longer there. And, perhaps worst of all, Virginia Tech returned just one starter on the offensive line.
So are the Hokies really this mediocre? Appears so, for now. The offense especially hasn’t gelled while attempting to replace several key starters from last season.
3. What should concern the Tar Heels most about this game?
Probably the fact that for the past decade or so, Virginia Tech has only had so many “bad” games per season. Have the Hokies gotten them all out of their system already? We all remember the stinker against James Madison back in 2010. And against East Carolina back in 2008. We’ve been here before.
And each time, the Hokies have rebounded from disappointing losses and redirected their season on the right track. No one would be surprised if that happened again. So will Virginia Tech start putting it together this weekend at UNC?
A pair of freshman backs, led by Michael Holmes, is starting to inject some life into the running game. It’s only a matter of time before the offensive line starts coming together. And Thomas is as dynamic a quarterback in college football, when you consider what he can do on the run and with his arm.
Then there’s turnovers. The Hokies have turned it over an average of nearly two times per game. Do the negative trends continue for Virginia Tech? Or will it begin to put it together this weekend?