Hokies Looking to Avoid 0-2 ACC Start

Inside Carolina takes an in-depth look at Virginia Tech, as the Hokies pay a visit to Chapel Hill on Saturday in a defining ACC Coastal Division showdown.

Virginia Tech Intro
When Virginia Tech convincingly took down then-No. 8 Ohio State at the Horseshoe (35-21) many people thought that the program was taking its first step back toward reestablishing itself as an ACC power. As it turns out, that assessment might have been a little premature. Since that quality road win, the Hokies have dropped two of their three home games (losses to No. 17 East Carolina and Georgia Tech) and it looks like there are still some issues for head coach Frank Beamer in Blacksburg. Virginia Tech rebounded from its two-game skid with a 35-17 win over Western Michigan on Saturday to climb back over the .500 mark (3-2) and will be preparing for its first road ACC contest of the season. Even though it’s only October, this is an incredibly important game for both Virginia Tech and UNC. The loser of this tilt will fall to 0-2 in conference play and potentially occupy sole possession of last place in the ACC’s Coastal Division.

Injuries have started to pile up for the Hokies, with this week's announcement that true freshman running back Shai McKenzie will miss the remainder of the season with a torn ACL that he suffered on Saturday. Through five games, McKenzie had amassed 269 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 53 carries. His absence will hurt a ground attack that has averaged 174.6 yards per game. With McKenzie out, look for this offense to become even more reliant on redshirt junior quarterback Michael Brewer (118-of-193 passing, 1,223 yards, 9 TD). The Texas Tech transfer is somewhat undersized (6-0, 200), and has been turnover prone (10 interceptions in 5 games) so far in 2014. UNC's defense may opt to sell out against the run (as it did against East Carolina and Clemson), and force an inconsistent Brewer to try and beat the Tar Heels through the air.

Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster is one of the best in college football, and this season has been no different. The Hokies' run defense has been stout as it normally is (opponents are averaging just 3.3 yards per carry). The pass defense might just be even more impressive. Foster’s secondary boasts a strong talent base (specifically sophomore Kendrick Fuller) that has made life difficult for opposing offenses. Tech opponents are averaging just 220 passing yards per game and have only thrown for five touchdowns in total. What stands out the most, however, is how easily this secondary has disrupted the rhythm of opposing quarterbacks. In five games this season, signal callers are completing just 44 percent of their attempts. The Hokies rank 27th nationally in pass efficiency defense and total defense despite games against two teams ranked in the top-17 in total offense (ECU, OSU).

Injuries have also hit Virginia Tech’s defense as All-ACC defensive tackle Luther Maddy had surgery last week for a torn meniscus, with a projected recovery of 2-4 weeks.

Quotables

“We are preparing for a very good Virginia Tech football team, a team that plays great defense. They have changed what they do offensively – they have a quarterback that can throw the ball well - so they’re doing different things offensively from what they’ve done in the past.” –UNC head coach Larry Fedora

“I think in college football you have to use your non-conference games to evaluate and figure out who is your best. You want to try to win, but now it’s in to the serious part of our schedule.” – Beamer

Notable Matchups

UNC’s Defensive Front vs. Virginia Tech’s Rushing Game
Even though McKenzie will be out for this game (torn ACL), the Tar Heels will still have to contend with the Hokies leading rusher, freshman Marshawn Williams (65 carries, 290 yards, two touchdowns). At 5-foot-11 and 229 pounds, Williams is a physical back that will still be running behind a veteran offensive line. Beamer told reporters on Monday that sophomore Trey Edmunds (32 yards on five carries) would also see his snap count increase. Last week, however, the Tar Heels proved that they have the ability (and a scheme) that can be effective against the run. Clemson was a balanced offensive team, and Carolina was able to keep the Tigers under 100 yards rushing, as well as limit dual-threat quarterback Deshaun Watson’s scrambling ability. If UNC can bottle up Williams and Co. and force Brewer into some errant throws, it could begin to turn around its poor defensive play of late.

UNC’s Receivers vs. Virginia Tech’s Cornerbacks
Yes, UNC’s offense has struggled with consistency, but the passing attack has shown flashes of its capability. While the Tar Heel defense may receive a relative reprieve this weekend, Virginia Tech’s defense, and in particular its secondary, is as good as any that UNC has faced thus far. San Diego State’s success derived from its blitzing scheme. East Carolina and Clemson both had strong front sevens that could attack the quarterback and mask any issues on the back end. Virginia Tech, however, has All-ACC level corners. Fuller is a legitimate NFL prospect (his brother Kyle was a first round pick at cornerback in last spring’s draft). Junior Donavan Riley will serve as an adequate complementary piece on the other side of the field. Virginia Tech held ECU to 261 passing yards over the final 47 minutes after struggling to adapt early, although UNC’s entire offense has been a slow starter this season.


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