Both teams have postseason bowl aspirations, with Carolina needing to win two of its last three games to qualify for an invite. The Hokies, although they have six wins, need one more to clinch bowl-eligible status, because it played a preseason game against Southern Cal.
Twenty-four-year coaching veteran Frank Beamer has led the Hokies to 11-straight bowl appearances. He currently ranks fourth in all-time wins among active coaches with 173, behind Bobby Bowden (348), Joe Paterno (341) and Lou Holtz (248).
Adding a little extra spice to the contest, Beamer once turned down a job offer from Carolina, ultimately paving the way for the hire of John Bunting. Some contend Beamer never had any real intention of coaching the Tar Heels, but went through the interview process in order to secure a more lucrative compensation package from Virginia Tech.
VPI holds a 12-9-6 lead in the series which dates back to 1895, with 19 of the 27 contests having been played on neutral sites. In their last meeting Carolina won, 42-3, in Jacksonville, Fla. to claim the Gator Bowl championship following the 1997 season. Five of the games have ended in 0-0 ties, and the Hokies are 2-2-2 in Chapel Hill, but the match-up before – a 14-14 tie at Kenan Stadium – took place in 1946.
Traditionally, Tech fans have traveled well, helping their Hokies to a 39-17 road record over the last 11 years.
The running game has been bolstered by the return of Mike Imoh (#20, 5-7, 197, Jr.), who was suspended for the first three games of the season. His diminutive size allows him to hide behind bigger offensive linemen. Imoh finished ranked third in the nation last season with 30.5 yards per kickoff return. In his five games back, he has rushed for a team-high 408 yards on 103 carries. Justin Hamilton (#27, 6-3, 222, Jr.) has 257 yards on 56 attempts, scoring his first collegiate rushing touchdown in the win over Western Michigan. Cedric Humes (#32, 6-1, 231, Jr.) leads the team with four rushing touchdowns to go with a 4.7 yards per carry average. Fullback John Kinzer (#3, 6-0, 228, Sr.), who has yet to carry the ball, has caught eight passes and scored twice.
Look for Randall to throw to a tight end in tough situations, as 17-of-24 completions to the trio of Jeff King (#90, 6-5, 263, Jr.), Jared Mazzetta (#85, 6-4, 265, Sr.) and Duane Brown (#89, 6-5, 272, Fr.*), have resulted in first-down yardage. King had a career-high four catches for 65 yards in the season opener versus the top-ranked Trojans. Mazzetta, who has seven receptions for 94 yards, caught a big 21-yard catch on third down in the win over Georgia Tech. Brown caught his first career pass for a 33-yard touchdown.
A big reason why the Hokies can utilize their tight ends so effectively in the passing game is this gigantic unit - a mix of youth and experience - led by returning starters at tackle Jimmy Martin (#52, 6-5, 299, Jr.) and Jon Dunn (#79, 6-7, 331, Sr.). Dunn has graded out at 82 percent this season with 23 pancake blocks, while Martin is coming off a career performance against the Yellow Jackets, 95 percent efficiency on 65 plays. Reggie Butler (#61, 6-6, 334, Jr.) provides depth at tackle, and is listed as a co-starter with Jason Murphy (#72, 6-5, 305, Jr.) at left guard. Right guard James Miller (#76, 6-6, 312, Sr.) has started all eight games, playing on 479 snaps. Will Montgomery (#66, 6-3, 300, Jr.), took over this season for All-American center Jake Grove, now with the Oakland Raiders.
With the early season injury to Xavier Adibi (#11, 6-2, 222, Fr.*), linebackers coach Bud Foster was forced to make some changes. Now with Adibi back, the Hokies have shifted to primarily a three-man rotation. And with Mikal Baaqee (#45, 5-10, 224, Sr.) able to man both inside and outside positions, look for all three combinations to be used. Vince Hall (#9, 6-0, 240, Fr.*) is third on the team in tackles with 40.
Royal (13.5 yards per return) handles the punts, while Imoh is the kick returner. Imoh has a 42-yard return this season and Royal has a 58-yarder, but neither has found the end zone thus far. Punter Vinnie Burns (#38, 5-11, 194, So.), a two-time finalist for the Ray Guy Award, is averaging 41.9 yards per kick with seven inside the 20. Kicker Brandon Pace (#46, 5-10, 191, So.), a former walk-on, has made 15-of-19 field goal attempts and all 28 of his point after touchdown tries.