Photo courtesy of Virginia Tech athletics
We have a huge one in Chapel Hill today.
The 19th-ranked Virginia Tech Hokies make a trip to Kenan Stadium this afternoon as they visit the No. 8 North Carolina Tar Heels. The contest is one of two top-20 match-ups in the ACC this weekend.
Game Day Information
When: Saturday, Oct. 10, 12 p.m. ET
Where: Kenan Memorial Stadium, Chapel Hill, NC
PXP: Bob Wischusen
Analyst: Dan Orlovsky
Sideline Reporter: Jerry Punch
Forecast: 69 F, Cloudy, 60% Chance of Rain
Series History: Virginia Tech Leads 24-12-6
Last Meeting: Virginia Tech won 43-41 on October 19, 2019
Line: North Carolina -4
The Virginia Tech Hokies and North Carolina Tar Heels are set to battle it out in a humongous match-up in the ACC. The winner of this one very well could squeak its way into the ACC Championship.
The contest will be the biggest in the ACC during the day. Tonight, No. 1 Clemson will host seventh-ranked Miami.
The Tar Heels come into Saturday with a record of 2-0. North Carolina pulled away in the fourth quarter against Syracuse, before then having a three-week layover. After a non-conference game against Charlotte was postponed for COVID-19 concerns, Mack Brown’s squad edged out an ugly one in Chestnut Hill last weekend against Boston College, 24-22.
Brown and company have done an outstanding job since taking over for Larry Fedora in Chapel Hill. The former national championship winner at Texas has brought North Carolina football back into the spotlight.
Virginia Tech head coach Justin Fuente and company will have their hands full this weekend in Chapel Hill. Let’s get you ready for kickoff.
Defining Game For Virginia Tech
This one is arguably Fuente’s most important game he has coached in since taking over in 2016. Beating a top-10 North Carolina team on the road would be huge for Virginia Tech. Program trajectories, recruiting, and much more can come out of this game.
A win could also set the tone for Fuente and Virginia Tech going forward, giving them confidence it can win big games. Playing well in a prime time on national television never hurts.
The Hokies won big in Chapel Hill in the rain back in 2016. With rain in the forecast, they will look to do the same this year against the Tar Heels.
Triple Running Threat
The Hokies come into this one with star quarterback Hendon Hooker yet to take a snap this year. Hooker was in quarantine throughout September, and as a result, was unable to play against NC State and supposedly Duke.
Fuente noted Hooker was ready to play against Duke, but had had limited practice time. The fifth-year head coach told the media Monday that Hooker is a “full go” for this weekend. That is certainly good news for Hokie fans, as adding Hooker’s run ability to the already intimidating threat of Khalil Herbert and Raheem Blackshear will only make Virginia Tech more difficult to stop.
North Carolina needs to circle Herbert’s name, as all he did last week in Durham was rush for 208 yards, two touchdowns, and nearly took a kick return back. Virginia Tech also has the ability to get receivers Tre Turner and Tayvion Robinson in the run game. Jet sweeps have been well known to be a favorite of Fuente and offensive coordinator Brad Cornelsen.
In Hooker’s absence, Oregon transfer Braxton Burmeister took the majority of reps at quarterback for the Hokies. Burmeister played OK against Duke, going 9-for-25 passing with 163 yards. Although they both may play, getting Hooker back in the run game will certainly be beneficial to Virginia Tech, and could potentially lead the Hokies to the upset win over North Carolina.
Big Question Marks
The Hokies do face a major challenge heading into today’s game. It is still unclear how many guys will be playing in the secondary for Virginia Tech. The Hokies were down their top six cornerbacks and two safeties in the win against Duke; it’s still foggy how many guys will be back.
Walk-on safety Tyler Matheny stepped up big for Virginia Tech last week. The former high school wrestling state champion recorded both an interception, as well as a sack and a tackle for loss. The Hokies may need Matheny and company to step up again this week in Chapel Hill.
Rumors are swirling that Brion Murray and Armani Chatman will be available this weekend, so that’s good news for Fuente. Divine Deablo’s status is unknown. It still is unclear if star cornerback Jermaine Waller will be available, as he’s been battling an ankle issue since last year’s heartbreaking loss at Notre Dame.
Virginia Tech will have defensive coordinator Justin Hamilton available for the first time this season. Hamilton tested positive for COVID-19 the day prior to the NC State win, and has been in quarantine since.
Virginia Tech will also look to stack the box with the questions in the secondary, as the Hokies’ front has been nothing short of outstanding this year. Jarrod Hewitt, Emmanuel Belmar, and Justus Reed will be ready to go to get after UNC quarterback Sam Howell.
The High-Flying Tar Heels
As mentioned above, North Carolina is enjoying a 2-0 start, but will have that tested this week against the Hokie defense.
Howell will need to have the coming-out game people are waiting for. Howell needs to have a big game throwing the ball, as North Carolina will likely target the depleted secondary for Virginia Tech.
It’ll be interesting to see how much UNC utilizes the run game. Running back Michael Carter has shown he’s a stud in years past, but has yet to really get going this season. The same goes for receiver Dazz Newsome.
Newsome has only three receptions so far this season, and has yet to find himself in the end zone. The Virginia native will likely need to have a big game, as Howell will try to find him and fellow receiver Dyami Brown, especially against unproven Hokie corners.
North Carolina also will face questions in the secondary. The ineligible Myles Wolfolk just recently entered the transfer portal, and cornerback Storm Duck seems to be unavailable after leaving last week’s win against Boston College due to injury.
Time will tell, but it should be interesting how the Tar Heels attack on defense. As are the Hokies, the depleted secondary should result in Virginia Tech throwing the ball. It’ll just be interesting to see how the Tar Heels respond.
Hokies’ Keys To The Game
Make UNC Run The Ball
With the unknowns in the secondary for Virginia Tech, the Hokies can ill-afford to let Sam Howell get going throwing the ball. The Hokies will certainly circle Howell’s name, as he will be the guy Fuente can not let beat him.
Michael Carter has had big moments before, but hasn’t proved himself yet this season. Virginia Tech will need to make Carolina run the ball as much as possible against the stacked defensive line for the Hokies.
Do that and Virginia Tech will be in good shape as the day goes along. UNC will be playing a dangerous game against the talented front of Hewitt, Reed, Belmar, and Norell Pollard.
Get The Passing Game Going
Similar to Virginia Tech, UNC has taken some heavy hits in the secondary. The absence of Wolfolk and Duck will increase playing time for former Virginia Tech commit Cam’ron Kelley, who recently returned from a torn ACL. The Tar Heels have also had plenty of opt-outs in the secondary, including former Hokie defensive back Bryce Watts.
If Hooker or Burmeister is able to hit Hokie receivers throughout the day, it’ll be a long afternoon for Jay Bateman’s defense.
No Big Plays
There is one thing Virginia Tech cannot allow if the Hokies want to be victorious Saturday afternoon. The “Lunch Pail D” will need to bring the energy, and will have to prevent any big plays, especially in the passing game. The corners for Virginia Tech will need to step up, and must stop Howell from hitting either Newsome or Brown with space in front of them.
Look for UNC to try to take shots, especially on 2nd-and-short. Offensive coordinator Phil Longo may try to surprise the Hokie defense, taking a deep shot or two.
This is the toughest game to pick so far. If Hooker can play enough, Virginia Tech can walk out of Chapel Hill with a victory.
However, with the unknown of how much Hooker will play, and the unknowns of who will be playing in the secondary, it’s tough to go against the Tar Heels. They’ll win a close one on their home turf.
Prediction: (8) North Carolina 31, (19) Virginia Tech 27
Other FQ Writer Picks:
Michael Black (FQOregon): (19) Virginia Tech 35, (8) North Carolina 30
Shayler (FQNebraska): (8) North Carolina 34, (19) Virginia Tech 33