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 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