It feels almost unreal that I am about to post the preview for what is going to be the sixth game of the season for UNC football. But that is exactly what this game is as North Carolina will host Virginia Tech at Kenan Stadium today at 12:30 p.m. EST in what has been dubbed the “White Out” game, where the Heels will be wearing white helmet, jersey and pants while hoping the fan base all wears white shirts to the stadium. This will be the 35th meeting between the two schools, the eleventh time that the programs have matched up in Chapel Hill, with the Hokies having an overall 18-9-6 advantage in the series. Almost as amazing as the reality that the college football season is almost half way done is the fact that both programs come into Chapel Hill with the same record of 3 wins and 2 losses, but maybe the most shocking part of it all might just be that the Tar Heels are a six points favorite according the the Vegas insiders.
Carolina comes into this game having lost two road games, first to in state and ACC foe Wake Forest and then to Top 25 Louisville. If things had gone just a tad bit better for the Heels they could have been 5-0 coming into this game. But they did not, and truth be told if the UNC football program was 5 and 0 coming into this week it would be nice just on paper, and would just be hiding the fact this squad has a long way to go under the new regime. Virginia Tech arrives with losses to Pittsburgh, a team that lost to Division IAA Youngstown State as well as looking bad last night versus another future ACC program in Syracuse, along with another Big East squad in Cincinnati on a 39 yard pass in the last minute of the game. The difference when it comes to the records of these two teams is that the guests have a win in the Atlantic Coast Conference, while the Heels have a loss.
“Obviously, Virginia Tech is a very good football team,” Fedora said. “We’re going to find out a lot more about the identity of this football team Saturday somewhere around 4 o’clock.”
Here are my keys to the game:
Get it going from the Get-Go! If you look at both of these squads a common denominator for them is that they are not doing much in the first half of their games. If Carolina wants to win today it has to strike quickly and often, get the crowd into it, and keep Va Tech on their (no pun intended) heels for the whole game. What head coach Larry Fedora and his squad can ill afford to do is to have a lackadaisical first half against a conference opponent. If UNC does not come out roaring from the start they might just add to the five game losing streak they have against Virginia Tech, a squad that has not lost an opening road conference game in half a century.
To be added, from all I have read/seen/heard the “White Out” that has been put together by Carolina seems to have everyone, from the staff to the players to the fan base, truly excited. Being able to get out in front is just going to make that excitement come out even more for all that are there!
Air it out. I know, I know, last week I talked about running the ball as much as the Tar Heels could, but this game Bryn Renner, who’s father was a punter at Va Tech and then played in the NFL, who is playing very well this season under the new spread offense (1,400 yds, 14 TDs to just 4 INTs), is going up against a team that last week gave up close to 400 passing yards. Without a doubt UNC can use all of its work horses in Giovani Bernard (who last year had 45 yards & a TD on 10 carries and did not come back in second half after suffering a concussion), Romar Morris and A.J. Blue, but they can do it by letting them catch the ball out of the back field as well.
Also, as I talk about quarterbacks let me add this. One of the keys to this game needs to be that the offensive line is able to keep Renner well protected, while the D line has to get to Va Tech’s Logan Thomas as much as they can. And speaking of protection…
Protect the ball. Whether it’s Renner passing the ball, one of the three above mentioned backs running it or a wide receiver after catching a pass, the whole squad must make sure that they do not lose the ball. In the first five games the Tar Heels have had eight turnovers. And while they are going up against a team that did give up a ton of yards through the air it’s also a core group that returns nine starters from last season. Basically saying that this could be your typical Jekyll and Hyde squad and you rather have the former and not the latter, but you are going to have to deal with whichever shows up.
On the other side of the ball UNC’s defense needs to keep the pressure on Virginia Tech and see if they can make the Hokies cough up the ball twice, which is about the season average for Frank Beamer’s team this season. One way that this can happen is if Carolina keeps hitting the opponent’s quarterback as they have most of the season. In all the Heels have 14 sacks, second only to FSU, led by defensive tackle Sylvester Williams with 4.5, which ranks him third in the conference.
Win the war of the Punts. This game is going to show that special teams mean a ton in the game of football. The Hokies are among the best, third overall, in the punt return game as Kyshoen Jarrett is averaging just over twenty five yards per. The Tar Heel combined effort makes them the best in all of Div IA with a total of 355 yards combined. On the flip side of the ball Va Tech is known for being able to block punts and so is UNC, having done so three times so far this season.
“The decision was made that should a member institution be ineligible for postseason competition due to NCAA sanctions, it will be ineligible for regular season or divisional recognition.” (From the official site of the ACC)
This game is going to be a huge for both of these programs. For North Carolina, who can not do anything past the regular season nor can they even get the glory if they win their division (all the way at the bottom), this is going to show how much improvement they have made from the two consecutive losses. For Virginia Tech, a team that all thought would be the shoe in to win the Coastal Division but has suffered two head scratching losses and looks to be mediocre at best, this match up will show if they are back on the right track or not.
In the end this is a tough game to get a feeling about. Is UNC football coming into its own under a new coach and with new schemes on both sides of the ball, or are we too optimistic because they have won games they should have against inferior opponents and lost to the mediocre and good squads? Is Virginia Tech really going to be as bad as they showed us to be in their two losses this season, or are they the same team that lose some games and then turns it around? I truly believe that it’s going to be a close game, with the possibility that the last one with a chance to score might just take the W, and if not, it’s going to be a game that North Carolina takes by a touchdown or so. I see the score being 31 to 21 for the Tar Heels, getting out in front and then having to keep the Hokies from making a late surge.
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