It’s been awhile since the Hokies had a big win at home. This squad needs some momentum going into the 2021 season after a losing campaign last year. Nothing would jump start the season like a top ten win at home over a division rival.
Justin Fuente usually does his best work early in the season. In 2017, his team beat WVU at FedEx Field in a big season opener on Labor Day weekend. In 2018, his team beat FSU in Tallahassee in another big-time showcase game on Labor Day. Even last year, his team took a pretty good NC State team to the woodshed in the first game of the season. All this to say, Justin Fuente usually has his guys ready to go early in the season.
Sam Howell is one of the best quarterbacks in college football. He may even be a top-ten pick in next year’s NFL draft. He’s that good. Looking at the matchups, Sam Howell has a solid advantage both in the QB matchup and also against VT’s secondary. He should have room to work across the middle with VT’s new linebackers and safeties. Watch early in the game how VT’s defense defends the middle of the field.
UNC has a talented and experienced defense, which should give the Hokies offense some trouble. This is a better group than the one the Hokies put up 45 points against last season. While the Hokies should be able to move the ball against this defense, they will get their share of stops throughout the game. North Carolina has a talented group on that side of the ball.
If the Hokies hope to have success, they need to stop the run. If the Hokies let the Heels get going on the ground, it’s going to be a long night. If they can stop the run and force Howell into 3rd and long, they should have some success keeping UNC from running up a lot of points.
The Hokies have a real shot in this game. They are catching UNC at the right time and Lane Stadium should be rockin’. But as we’ve all learned when the Hokies play against ranked opponents, it usually comes down to who has the better talent on the field. The Hokies will hold their own and keep the game close going into the 4th quarter. But Sam Howell and the UNC offense will prove too much and take the game with a late touchdown in the 4th quarter.
Prediction: North Carolina 35, Virginia Tech 28
For two weeks in a row the Hokies have been able to pull out wins even while being undermanned on defense. The Hokies have been able to win with a dominant run game which currently ranks #1 in the country in rush yards per attempt. If Tech is able to keep up this type of dominant run game, they will be tough to stop. But the competition level goes up this week with a trip to Chapel Hill.
Special Teams: 21st
Special Teams: 43rd
North Carolina has an impressive passing attack but it has yet to come together in 2020. If the Hokies are still missing defensive backs, this is a passing attack that can exploit that weakness. Tech needs their top defensive backs this week to stop a powerful aerial attack. To limit its effectiveness the Hokies will need to get in the backfield early and often. Virginia Tech ranks #1 in the nation in sacks. They will need a strong performance from their front seven to get after Sam Howell and limit the North Carolina passing attack.
North Carolina’s defense has been impressive, but it’s been against some pretty ineffective offenses. So far this year, the Tar Heels have been the #1 team in the nation against the run. If they can keep that up, it will force the Hokies to have to beat them through the air. If Hendon Hooker is behind center, the Hokies stand a better chance to air it out. The Hokies should be able to find some running room, but it’s unlikely they’ll be able to run for 300+ yards for the third consecutive week.
On paper, this looks like a great matchup between two evenly matched teams. UNC has a great passing attack. Tech has a great running attack. Both teams feature stingy defenses. The Hokies are still trying to get all their guys back on the field to see how stingy this defense can be. If you’ve watched UNC, you get the feeling you haven’t seen the best that offense has to offer yet. This may be the week they break out of their funk. If the Hokies are going to win, they need to pound UNC with the running game. Like they did NC State and Duke. If the Hokies can pound the rock for four quarters and connect on a couple of shots downfield. They have a good chance to win. Before the season started, I had this game marked down as a loss. But after seeing how impressive this offensive line and running game have been, Tech should be able to pull this one out.
Prediction: Virginia Tech 34, North Carolina 31
The Hokies didn’t look great against Rhode Island. The Virginia Tech offense only had 8 possessions the entire game. The offense was pretty efficient but it stumbled on a couple of its red zone opportunities. If the Hokies had cashed in, the scoreline would have looked much better. The Hokies offense is going in the right direction, not sure if the same is true about the defense right now.
Special Teams: 92nd
Special Teams: 58th
Expect UNC QB Sam Howell to get his yards against Virginia Tech’s secondary. He has thrown for over 1,500 yards, 15 touchdowns and only 3 interceptions so far this season. Very impressive for a true freshman. The North Carolina offensive line has had some trouble pass blocking. The Hokies defensive line will need to get into the UNC backfield and make life difficult for Howell. This worked well against Miami and the Hokies will need to get back to that type of pass rush against North Carolina. Tech will also need to be able to cover the UNC running backs in the passing game. They use their running backs in the pass game more than the teams the Hokies have faced so far this season.
North Carolina has had trouble covering the passing game this year. The Hokies talented wideouts are going to have to make plays on the outside. Having a healthy Tre Turner and Damon Hazelton will help. Tech will not have much success running inside so they will need to look to the outside running game to find room on the ground. This is also a great opportunity to get Dalton Keene and James Mitchell involved in the offense. The run blocking looked better against Rhode Island. Having an effective run game will help to open up the passing game. Blocking UNC’s defensive line and linebackers will be much tougher than blocking Rhode Island’s.
These teams look similar on paper. Both have average offenses and defenses. The team who can win the one-on-one battles will win this game. Especially in the passing game. The Duke game also looked close on paper and we remember how that turned out. The Hokies’ play-calling may have been a bit vanilla against Rhode Island. The playbook will be open against UNC. Expect a little bit of trickeration from the Hokies. Winning this game would get the Hokies in contention for a bowl and improve their odds for spot in the ACC Championship. A loss and you can forget about the Coastal title and a bowl bid becomes dicey. In the end, Sam Howell makes more plays with his arm and North Carolina wins by a touchdown.
Prediction: North Carolina 35, Virginia Tech 28
The Hokies are back in conference play after starting the season 2-0 in ACC play. This week’s challenge is the North Carolina Tar Heels in Chapel Hill. North Carolina is a team that has struggled this year. They have begun the year 1-3 with the one win coming against Pittsburgh at home in a shootout. North Carolina is looking to get a win however they can get one. The Hokies are looking to go to 3-0 in conference play.
Overall S&P+ Rank: 47th
Offensive S&P+ Rank: 40th
Defensive S&P+ Rank: 59th
Special Teams S&P+ Rank: 16th
Overall S&P+ Rank: 98th
Offensive S&P+ Rank: 104th
Defensive S&P+ Rank: 77th
Special Teams S&P+ Rank: 14th
North Carolina has a solid pass defense. In fact, they are top 25 in terms of defending the pass. If the Hokies want to get any offensive momentum going in this game, it will have to be on the ground. This is a game where Steven Peoples and DeShawn McClease should have good games. The Hokies need to go to them early and often. The Hokies are also fortunate that North Carolina’s best pass rusher, Malik Carney, is suspended for this game. That’s one less thing to worry about when Ryan Willis drops back to pass.
We don’t really know what to expect from the North Carolina offense. If Nathan Elliott starts at quarterback for North Carolina, he has been largely ineffective this season. The Tar Heels could choose to go to true freshman Cade Fortin in this game. We don’t know much about him. He has only thrown six passes this season. He could be an X-factor in this game. Also look out for wide receiver Anthony Ratliff-Williams in the passing game and running back Antonio Williams in the running game. The Hokies defense looks much better with Divine Deablo in the secondary. Let’s hope he’s healthy enough to suit up on Saturday night.
Virginia Tech’s defensive numbers look bad this season. If you dive deeper into the numbers you’ll see that they are actually a good defensive team that struggles with giving up explosive plays. They are one of the worst teams in the country at giving up explosive plays, particularly on the ground. If the Hokies can fill their gaps and make their tackles, this looks like a much better defense. The explosive plays have been killing the Hokies this season.
The keys to this game for Virginia Tech will be to establish the run and not give up the big play on defense. It’s critical that the Hokies keep their defensive assignments. If the Hokies can keep up a consistent running game, they should be able to move the ball up and down the field. It’s important that they don’t fall behind and have to chase the game with the passing game. On paper, Virginia Tech looks like the better team. Hokies get back to playing good defense and pick up another conference road win.
Prediction: Virginia Tech 34, North Carolina 24
The North Carolina game is starting to become as important as the UVA game. Years ago it was important for the Hokies to win the in-state rivalry with UVA to help with recruiting. These days, the state of North Carolina is just as important for recruiting as Virginia is. That’s why it’s important for the Hokies to beat UNC. Not to mention their recent academic fraud scandal and the bad things they’ve said about VT on the recruiting trail. They are an easy team to dislike.
Overall S&P+ ranking: 19th
Offensive S&P+ ranking: 61st
Defensive S&P+ ranking: 11th
Special Teams S&P+ ranking: 53rd
Overall S&P+ ranking: 88th
Offensive S&P+ ranking: 82nd
Defensive S&P+ ranking: 82nd
Special Teams S&P+ ranking: 74th
North Carolina’s only win this year was over Old Dominion. Against the Power 5 teams on their schedule, they have lost by multiple scores. The Hokies defense will be the best defense that UNC has seen this year.
Let’s talk about UNC does well. They are actually a decent running team. The problem is Larry Fedora doesn’t like to run the ball. The are good at getting after the quarterback and getting sacks. And they are also good at forcing turnovers. So this is not a cake walk by any means. Especially if the Hokies get off to a slow start.
UNC is not very good defensively. They are likely better than Delaware, East Carolina and Old Dominion. But as far as ACC competition is concerned, they might be the worst defense left on the schedule. Expect the Hokies to be able to move the ball on the ground against North Carolina. Should be a good day on the ground for Josh Jackson and the Hokies remaining healthy running backs.
Things that concern me in this game are the Hokies being rusty coming off a bye and injuries at the wide receiver position. The Hokies have been getting off to slow starts all season. I’m worried we’ll see more of the same coming off a bye. I’m also wondering who is going to start at wide receiver with so many injuries. Hopefully, we’re pleasantly surprised but I worry about having to play a lot young players who will struggle with consistency.
I’m a slightly worried about this game for the reasons mentioned above. But if the Hokies have problems, the Heels issues are far bigger. They have lost 9 starters to injury who are out for the season. And the Hokies have the far better quarterback than the two the Heels could play on Saturday. Statistically, the Hokies are just better across the board. Kinda like the BC game. I see this being similar to that game. I hope the Hokies get it in gear and pour it on the Heels but I think that’s unlikely. This is another game where the Hokies need to get out with a win and get healthy before Miami and Georgia Tech.
Prediction: Virginia Tech 28, North Carolina 10
The Hokies are ranked! Finally. It’s been a long time since Virginia Tech has been in the top 25. Since September 2014 to be exact. After they beat Ohio State. Since then it’s been a lot of .500 football. They’re back in the top 25 and this time it feels like they’ll stay there for a while.
On to North Carolina. This looks like an even matchup on paper. North Carolina has an elite offense. Virginia Tech has an elite defense. North Carolina’s offense has talent but is inconsistent. You can say the same for the Virginia Tech offense. The advanced stats tell the story.
S&P+ Rankings: 14th
S&P+ Offensive Ranking: 73rd
S&P+ Defensive Ranking: 7th
S&P+ Special Teams Ranking: 32nd
S&P+ Rankings: 27th
S&P+ Offensive Ranking: 7th
S&P+ Defensive Ranking: 101st
S&P+ Special Teams Ranking: 20th
This game will come down to special teams plays and turnovers. The team that can make plays on special teams and win the turnover battle will win the game.
If you’re looking for matchups, watch Mitch Trubisky and VT’s secondary. He hasn’t faced a secondary this good all year. The highest ranked secondary he’s faced all year is Georgia. And they rank 92nd in passing efficiency defense. That’s a big jump in competition.
This is going to be a close game. Both teams are very good and deserve their top 25 ranking. Is Virginia Tech’s secondary good enough to slow down UNC’s high powered passing attack? Can Virginia Tech score consistently against a talented but inconsistent defense? Will the Hokies be able to keep Ryan Switzer in check?
North Carolina played very well against Pitt and FSU and pulled out gutsy wins against both. Then you have the Hokies coming off a bye week. There is the whole rest vs rust argument. History tells us Justin Fuente’s teams are good coming off a bye. Let’s hope that’s enough to pull out a tough fought win against the Tar Heels.
Prediction: Virginia Tech 31, North Carolina 30
This game is a mismatch. Not much in this matchup favors the Hokies. North Carolina is firing on all cylinders and are winners of nine straight. It’s hard to see a way that the Hokies can win this game.
North Carolina is a great rushing team with an even better running quarterback. Better hope that the Hokies have somehow figured out a way to contain a running quarterback otherwise Marquise Williams could run for 200 yards. There are plenty of playmakers to worry about on the UNC offense. This group is firing on all cylinders. No one has come close to stopping them in the last two games.
The defense is beatable but will require dedication to running the football. This is not a team that you can easily beat through the air. A consistent running game will control the clock and keep the UNC offense off the field. That is a good formula to beat these guys.
If you’re looking for reasons to be hopeful, UNC has only played two true road games this season. TWO! And both of them went down to the last possession. A seven point win against Georgia Tech and a seven point win against Pitt. Since then they’ve blasted Duke at home by 35 and Miami at home by 38.
My sense is that UNC is a team that thrives at home and may be feeling a bit too good about themselves going into a difficult road game at Virginia Tech. This should be the best crowd the Hokies have seen since the Ohio State game and should be at full throat from start to finish. On paper, the Tarheels are a much better team. These games aren’t played on paper and the Hokies should have the emotional edge. I’m not picking against Frank Beamer in his last home game. Go Hokies!
Prediction: Virginia Tech 34, UNC 28
Two questions going into this game: How bad is UNC’s defense and how bad is VT’s offense? The real answer is that no one really knows. What is clear is that both groups can do better than they have been. Which team is going to step up and get themselves back into the Coastal division race? Since both teams are facing an 0-2 hole in conference play, I think it’s going to be a knock-down, drag-out affair.
The Hokies should be able to run and pass effectively in this game. UNC’s defensive stats are not particularly impressive. In this game, it is important that they do not get away from the run game. They need to help Michael Brewer by taking some of the pressure off of him by running Marshawn Williams and Trey Edmunds. The more Brewer is forced to throw, the more nervous I get about the outcome. The Hokies need him to be more game-manager than gunslinger.
On defense, THE HOKIES HAVE TO LIMIT THE BIG PLAYS! How many times do we have to say that this year? Statistically, this defense looks pretty good even with all the big plays they’ve given up, which means they’ve been dominant when they aren’t giving up plays of 20+ yards. Carolina has plenty of talented receivers that can make the Hokies pay down field. They cannot afford another East Carolina-like performance. Chuck Clark and Donovan Riley are going to have bring their A-game to this one.
This is a strange game to predict. Neither team has been particularly consistent on either side of the ball. Given that the loser of this game will be in trouble as far as the Coastal division is concerned, I expect both teams to bring their best effort. I think it’s going to be a close one. There are definitely reasons to feel hopeful but I just don’t see the Hokies pulling this one out on the road.
Prediction: North Carolina 31, Virginia Tech 28
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What are your thoughts on your team so far?
The good news is that UNC’s offense has gotten better each week. Clemson has one of the best defenses in the ACC, and the Heels rebounded from a slow start to put up 35 points against them. The bad news, of course, is that UNC’s defense probably qualifies for FEMA assistance at this point. Scoring 35 points isn’t good enough when you’re giving up 50 … or 70 in the case of the East Carolina game.
What are your expectations going into the Virginia Tech game?
The game will be decided when Virginia Tech has the ball. As I said on this week’s ACC Weekly podcast, which also featured the royal steed of stationary running machines, it will be the stoppable force of Virginia Tech’s pedestrian offense under Michael Brewer against the movable object that has been UNC’s porous defense. If Brewer can complete enough passes to the right team and force UNC to make tackles, Virginia Tech will win. If not, UNC will win.
At this point, how do you see the Coastal Division shaking out?
I’d love to have some expert analysis of the Coastal, but I am utterly confused and perplexed by the division at this point. I liked Virginia Tech, then they lost to ECU and Georgia Tech. I liked Duke, they lost to Miami. I guess the teams I like most now are Virginia and Miami, which guarantees they will lose to Pitt and Georgia Tech this week. Really, I’m getting a headache just thinking about it.
What is your prediction for the game?
I predict #goacc. Lots and lots of #goacc. What else would we expect from the 12:30 ACC Network Game of the Week? I’m biased enough to think that UNC will generate enough turnovers to squeak out a win in front of the home crowd. But more importantly, I predict #goacc