CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – No. 17 North Carolina has faced a myriad of prolific rushers through five games this season. Georgia’s Nick Chubb. Pittsburgh’s James Conner. Florida State’s Dalvin Cook. When pitted against Virginia Tech on Saturday, the Tar Heels will add another name to that list, albeit at a different position.
Tech’s Jerod Evans, a JUCO transfer, has already made a name for himself in Blacksburg through four games. The 6-foot-4 quarterback has thrown for 970 yards, 13 touchdowns and ranks fourth nationally in passing efficiency, while also rushing for 209 yards and a touchdown.
UNC has yet to face a dual-threat quarterback in 2016 as dynamic as Evans.
“I think the biggest focus is to just get eleven guys to the ball,” senior cornerback Des Lawrence said. “He’s a big quarterback who can run. We just want to make sure there’s multiple hats to the ball and really just be there to get him down and be ready for the next down because he’s a big part of their offense.
“He has good feet once he escapes the pocket and can make guys miss. It’s not like he’s scrambling just to get a couple yards, he’s scrambling to score and get big runs.”
In practice this week, the emphasis for UNC’s defensive line is to contain Evans and not let him get to the perimeter when the 230-pounder tucks the ball to run.
“You’ve just got to be more conscious of the quarterback trap because (Evans) can take off and break for 80 and make people miss across field and make people look crazy,” junior defensive tackle Nazair Jones said. “We’ll have to do a good job as a defensive line, especially to keep him in that quarterback trap and not let him get outside of our ends.”
A big part of preparing for Evans’ style of play is getting mentally prepared, according to sophomore linebacker Andre Smith. He says the Tar Heels can’t let the hype around the quarterback’s elusiveness get into their heads.
“Our opponents, we always say, are faceless,” Smith said. “They don’t have any logos on the side of their helmets. It’s always about us doing our job and executing.”
While UNC is expecting several rushes from Evans, they also have to respect the junior's ability to throw the long ball. He’s connected on several 30-plus-yard passes this season, with a long of 55, and is averaging 9.4 yards per passing attempt.
For UNC defensive coordinator Gene Chizik, Evans’ combination of passing and running proficiency, plus the spread offense VT runs, makes him one of the biggest threats his defense has faced all season.
“He’s a great athlete and he’s in a really fitting scheme for what his skill set is,” Chizik said. “He’s very good at throwing the deep ball so he keeps you honest in the passing game and he is a tremendous runner. He’s very physical, too, so it will be a great challenge for us.”
Evans has all the makings of a star quarterback in the ACC, but Smith says it may be a little premature to call him anything after only four games. If anything, Smith sees Evans as similar in style to a quarterback that he’s very familiar with.
“I don’t know if he’s a ‘star’,” Smith said. “This Evans guy, he’s pretty big, he’s kind of like Marquise Williams and they like to run the ball a lot with him. I mean to stop him we just have to go out there and execute our job.”
Proper execution is based in an understanding of Justin Fuente’s new offense in Blacksburg.
“We have to really communicate and be hyper-aware of the differences in their types of shifts and motions,” Smith said. “They’ll shift someone out and motion someone out of the box just to give him space to run. So we’ll have to be aware of that, the QB draw, counters, all of that.”
UNC’s ability to limit Evans will go a long away in determining Saturday’s victor.