Series Record: Virginia Tech leads, 20-11-6
Last Five Games: Virginia Tech leads, 3-2
Getting to Know the Hokies
After spoiling Frank Beamer’s final game at Lane Stadium last season, UNC hopes to hand new Virginia Tech head coach Justin Fuente his first ACC loss this Saturday. The Hokies enter Kenan Stadium this week at 3-1 (1-0 ACC) with their only loss coming to top-10 ranked Tennessee in the second week of the season. Fuente’s team is also coming off of a bye week, giving them an extra week to prepare for the Tar Heels.
The quarterback position coming into the season was a question mark for Virginia Tech. Fuente spent all summer deciding who would take the mantle this season and eventually decided on top-ranked JUCO standout Jerod Evans.
Four games into the season, Evans is the most dangerous part of the Hokies’ offensive arsenal. At 6-foot-4, 230 pounds, the transfer has been a menace to opposing defenses. In his first season in Blacksburg, Evans already has 13 touchdown passes with only one interception, helping him post the fourth-highest passing efficiency rating in the country. Not only is Evans a proficient passer, but he also is the biggest deep ball threat UNC has faced so far this season. He lets the ball fly, averaging over 10 yards per passing attempt.
With the speed that VT runs its offense, Evans also has to be able to use his legs. His height and frame help out in the running game, as he’s already accumulated 209 rushing yards. While Fuente calls a few designed quarterback runs, Evan’s had no problem tucking the ball on passing plays and making plays with his feet.
While Evan’s has been in the spotlight, opposing defenses haven’t forgotten about redshirt sophomore running back Travon McMillian, who rushed for more than 1,000 yards last season, but has slowed down that pace in this year's encore performance. He’s coming off a performance against East Carolina in which he only rushed for 10 yards on nine carries. UNC’s porous run defense may be what McMillian needs to get his mojo back.
Wide receivers Cam Phillips and Isaiah Ford are the backbone of the Hokies’ passing attack. The pair have combined for 614 receiving yards and six touchdowns this season, and with both standing 6-foot-1, they match up well with almost any cornerback on the perimeter. Both receivers look for Evans to hit them down the field, as they are two of the best deep threats in the ACC.
The Hokies defense is highlighted by playmakers in the secondary. The unit is led by senior cornerback Chuck Clark, who has 30 tackles on the season. Clark, at 6-foot-1 and over 200 pounds, is a heavy hitter and sets the tone on defense for the Hokies. He, along with Mook Reynolds and Adonis Alexander, set up a dangerous secondary where no pass is safe. Like Florida State, VT also has some pass rushers with an innate ability to get to the quarterback. Senior defensive end Ken Ekanem has caused opposing offenses a lot of trouble in the backfield this season, racking up 4.5 sacks in four games, which is the eighth-most in the country.
Playing behind Ekanem is linebacker Andrew Motuapuaka. If you watch a Virginia Tech game closely, it’s hard not to see Motuapuaka involved in every single defensive play in some way. He leads the team in tackles with 37 and is the leader of the Hokies’ front seven.
“If I remember correctly, last year we fell behind a couple scores early and it wasn’t looking too great. We rallied at the end, forced overtime, so I think the guys who were around at that time can go into the game thinking it’s never over until it’s over and hopefully, eventually, it will go our way.” – Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente on last year’s UNC-VT game
“(Mitch Trubisky) has done a fantastic job of operating their offense. They have skill players all over the yard, multiple running backs that are very talented. The two things that I see that make them the most difficult is the tempo with which they play, they really push the tempo, and their ability to both run and throw the ball. They are truly a two-headed monster. They can run the football into good looks and certainly throw the ball into good looks. Their slot receiver, (Ryan) Switzer, is a heck of a football player. Then they’ve got some bigger guys on the outside that can really make plays. They know what they’re doing, they’ve been running this system for several years. They’re the catalyst for that team. They set the tone for that team. That team is built around that offense and ultimately trying to outscore people.” – Fuente on UNC’s offensive weapons
Matchup to Watch
UNC’s Mack Hollins vs. VT's Secondary
Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster trusts his defensive backs enough to call a lot of plays that entail man coverage on the outside. That may prove to be a problem against UNC receiver Mack Hollins. After the Georgia loss, Hollins has been on somewhat of a tear. He has a touchdown in his last four games and just now seems to be heating up. He broke out against James Madison three weeks ago and was a huge factor in the Tar Heels’ upset win over Florida State last week. At 6-foot-4, Hollins is a skyscraping target that Trubisky can throw higher to in order to get the ball out of the grasp of VT’s ball hawking defensive backs. Also, if Foster truly does plan to put his corners on islands, expect Hollins to be called on deep more than once during the game.