Series Record: Virginia Tech leads, 21-11-6
Last Five Games: Virginia Tech leads, 4-1
Getting to Know The Hokies
As far as motivation goes, Virginia Tech has plenty as it seeks to send Frank Beamer out with a win in his final home game at Lane Stadium. It’s also Senior Day, and the Hokies are one win away from bowl eligibility. This is an opportunity to close an unexpectedly poor season with a positive flourish for Virginia Tech, and North Carolina will have to match its opponent’s intensity from the start.
The Hokies opened the season in front of a national audience against then-No. 1 Ohio State, and despite playing well for a half, they were unable to keep up in the 42-24 loss. After two wins against Furman and Purdue, Virginia Tech lost four of its next five games, effectively removing itself from the ACC Coastal Division race. The Hokies have won two straight to return to .500 both overall (5-5) and in conference play (3-3).
Quarterback Michael Brewer is re-finding his footing after missing five games with a shoulder injury in the Hokies’ season opener. Brewer is averaging 169.8 passing yards per game in an offense that has struggled to gain yards this season. He’s completed 59.1 percent of his passes and thrown eight touchdowns against three interceptions in his five appearances.
Freshman Travon McMillian has been the Hokies’ go-to running back this year, averaging exactly 80 rushing yards per game. He’s found the end zone five times this season. McMillian’s speed will be an issue for Carolina if he can get to the second level, and the Tar Heels will need to make open-field tackles like they did against Miami to contain him.
Sophomore wide receivers Isaiah Ford and Cam Phillips will likely be the pair that defensive backs M.J. Stewart and Des Lawrence draw this weekend. Ford leads the team with eight touchdown receptions and averages 66 yards per game, while Phillips is right behind him with 505 yards and two touchdowns. Ford’s best UNC comparison would be Mack Hollins; He’s lengthy, can beat defenders down the field with his speed, and isn’t afraid to climb the ladder to make catches. Ford will also be the man to look for if the Hokies enter the red zone.
The Virginia Tech offensive line is below average, and the offense in whole suffers because of that. The Hokies have given up 2.6 sacks per game, third worst in the conference. They’ve also struggled to open up holes for their running backs this season; Virginia Tech is averaging just 167 yards per game on the ground.
This is a Bud Foster defense, so it’s safe to expect plenty of cover-one defenses with the corners playing man on the edge. In other words, this game could be be decided by whether the Virginia Tech secondary can match-up with North Carolina’s dynamic receiving corps.
Junior defensive back Chuck Clark leads the Hokies with 78 tackles, and has contributed five pass break-ups as well. The next most productive member of the Virginia Tech secondary is junior Desmond Frye, who has made 21 tackles and forced a fumble.
Freshman linebacker Adonis Alexander leads the Hokies in takeaways with three interceptions on the year. He’s also fourth on the team in tackles, taking down 50 ball carriers thus far.
The Hokies defensive line is middling relative to the rest of the conference. They rank eighth in the ACC with 19 sacks, and they rank ninth in the league in rushing defense, giving up 165.8 yards per game. Senior Luther Maddy anchors that unit with 50 tackles on the year.
“Where’s North Carolina ranked? No. 21? Hey, but wherever they are, they’re coming to our house, and that’d be a great win right there to show. Let’s save the dance for next week when we beat North Carolina. Yeah, we are.” – Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer to his players after last Thursday’s victory over Georgia Tech
“I’m excited, for sure, I know it’s going to be a tremendous opportunity. It’s going to be, definitely, an electric environment. I don’t think there’s going to be many places like that in the country. It’s Beamer’s last game at home, so I’m sure the fans are going send him off right.” – UNC running back Elijah Hood on the atmosphere at Lane Stadium on Saturday
Matchup to Watch
UNC’s wide receivers vs. Virginia Tech’s secondary
As mentioned earlier, Bud Foster will be dialing up a lot of schemes that create one-on-one match-ups for UNC’s receivers, and that will be a deciding factor in the game when North Carolina has the ball. Quarterback Marquise Williams has a plethora of weapons at his disposal, and it’s hard not to believe that he’s going to get a few open looks downfield at his home run hitters in Mack Hollins and Ryan Switzer. If he can hit on a few deep balls, more options will become available for the entire UNC offense. In addition, there’s no quicker way to take a crowd out of a game than the explosive play.