CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Wide receiver T.J. Thorpe will make his return to Kenan Stadium on Saturday as a Virginia Cavalier.
Thorpe, a native of Durham, N.C., transferred following the 2014 season. He graduated from UNC in December with a degree in exercise and sport science.
“We know T.J. is a very gifted player,” UNC coach Larry Fedora told reporters at his weekly press conference on Monday. “He can run, he can catch, he can run after the catch; he’s a good player.”
Thorpe recorded 574 receiving yards and five touchdowns in his three years at North Carolina. What looked to be a promising career never developed because of consistent injury issues.
“His career, other than all the injuries he had, he had a pretty good career here,” Fedora said. “With all of those injuries is what made it really tough.”
Thorpe will be welcomed back by his former teammates, though, especially senior quarterback Marquise Williams.
“I’m excited to see him,” Williams said. “I talk to him a good bit, and I’m excited just to see what he does in Saturday’s game. It’s been a long time, but it’s still exciting and love from me.”
“We put the Wake Forest game to bed last night and started working on the Virginia game. So we’ve got a big game coming up, another conference game, another good opponent coming into our stadium, so we’re going to have to do a great job of preparation this week and have our guys ready to play.”
What did you not like out of your performance against Wake Forest?
“There were a lot of things. One, we’re still not making any game-changing plays in our special teams. I think we’ve been very inconsistent there in all four of those big four units. I think defensively, we still, we didn’t get off the field on third downs like we want to. We did not stop them in the red zone. We want to be around 50 percent in the red zone and making them kick field goals, and we didn’t do that. Offensively, we were inconsistent. We made some big plays and explosive plays, but we weren’t really consistent in grinding out any drives.”
How were your offensive players able to pick up blitzes against Wake Forest?
“I thought our guys did a really good job. We spent a lot of time last week with our protection with our backs and tight ends and o-line recognizing all the different blitzes and being able to pick it up, and I thought we did a pretty good job of that as we went through the game. There were a couple of times that (Marquise Williams) got hit, but it wasn’t just necessarily blitzing, it was maybe a one-on-one situation where a guy just gets beat.”
What does Jalen Dalton bring to the defensive line that maybe you didn’t have before?
“Jalen brings some explosiveness, he’s got really good power in his hips, he comes off the ball really well. I’m not saying the other guys don’t do that, but I’m just telling you what his strengths are. And he can run really well. He can run.”
Are you interested in advanced statistics or metrics?
“I think all of those things are really interesting. Every time they put something out, I’m reading it. I’m interested in all of that. I’m kind of fascinated by numbers and all of those kind of things. I’ve been keeping, I kind of keep all of our stuff, and I’ve been doing it for as long as I’ve been running this offense, so I can compare over the years what things I think are really important to our success. Those two things for us, if we can win those two battles, we can win the turnover battles and win the explosive play battles, we’re usually going to be pretty successful.”
Elijah Hood is averaging 6.9 yards per carry this season. What has allowed him to run at such an efficient clip?
“He’s healthy this year, he’s hungry, he runs extremely hard, he’s very physical, he really dislikes being tackled, and the offensive line is better. I’d say all the way across from the five offensive linemen, to the tight ends, to the receivers, everybody is doing a better job of blocking on the perimeter, downfield, all of those things. He’ll tell you, he doesn’t like being tackled. You’ll know when he runs, he runs really violent. Real aggressive. Not to say everybody doesn’t, but when you watch when he runs, and when he makes contact with somebody, he’s usually delivering all of the blow. He’s punishing the guy that’s trying tackle him. He’s told me before, he really does not like being tackled.”