GC: The Tar Heels sit at 1-3 four games in, and while they've faced off against two pretty good teams and an underrated team in East Carolina. How does the start mesh with the expectations entering the year?
THB: I was thinking 2-2 at this point. I thought they would beat Middle Tennessee and ECU but lose at South Carolina and Georgia Tech. And in some respects being 1-3 would be terribly disconcerting had the Tar Heels not looked so bad on defense against ECU. That performance raised major concerns about this team's ability to stop anyone. With the offense playing inconsistently, it makes the expectations less rosy.
GC: How has Bryn Renner looked so far this season? Being a senior quarterback, how much of this is on him?
THB: Renner has looked off target more than at any point in the previous two seasons. He had a good half versus Georgia Tech but for the most part has been out of sync with his receivers. The offensive line turnover and the lack of a running game has made life very difficult for him and I think he might be pressing a bit.
GC: The Heels have been pretty anemic in the running game to date. How much have they missed Gio Bernard, or is it a combination of that and offensive line play?
THB: UNC lost a top notch running back and three offensive linemen to the NFL. The same level of talent is simply not there and it shows.
GC: Speaking of Gio, how surprised are you about what he has done in the pros so far and how quickly he has found a niche on the Bengals?
THB: Bernard is special which is cliche but there is just something about him that makes you think he is going to be successful. The biggest concern is injury which is the only reason I can think of the Bengals are limiting his carries despite being the best running back on the roster.
GC: Defensively, what's up? Of course East Carolina was the only team to score more than 28 points on the Heels so far, but each team has gained over 400 yards if I'm doing this math thing right.
THB: I think it is more or less a talent gap. Most of the top shelf is gone from the 2009-2011 recruiting classes, the 2012 class was not very good and Fedora is redshirting the quality players on the 2013 class. That has left the cupboard a little bare. The scheme might be an issue but more than that I think the coaching turnover, the personnel and even a lack of development for some players has led to a situations where the defense is in a bad place.
GC: At what point do you start worrying about making a bowl? There are plenty of winnable games left, but if they should fall to 1-4, what do you think happens at that point?
THB: That is a real concern now though the back half of UNC's schedule might prove more favorable. UNC will play give of its final seven games at home. Assuming a loss in Blacksburg, UNC would need to go 5-2 over the final seven with games vs Miami at home and on the road versus NC State and Pitt. UNC also faced Duke, Virginia, BC and Old Dominion, none of which are necessarily locks.
GC: If you're Frank Beamer, how would you attack this Tar Heel defense?
THB: Pressure Bryn Renner. UNC won't be able to run the ball against the Hokies' defensive line so making life miserable for Renner is the best option. Part of his troubles this season has been not enough protection which has made him antsy in the pocket. He is not very mobile so if Virginia Tech can get pressure they can cripple the UNC offense.
GC: And if you're Larry Fedora, what do you try to do on offense?
THB: Bearing the previous answer in mind, I suspect it will be the same as they did versus South Carolina when pocket pressure was a concern. Short passes to the perimeter or to TE Eric Ebron will probably be the play calls. I don't think trying too much downfield against the Hokies' secondary would be a good idea. If Romar Morris is healthy, it helps with the swing passes into space for where Morris can run. If not, the offense might struggle.
GC: What makes this game different than the 48-34 drubbing the Heels put on the Hokies a year ago, if anything?
THB: The Hokies' defense looks much better and UNC's offensive line and absence of Gio Bernard completely flip this game around.
GC: Who are some under the radar players the Hokies should watch out for against North Carolina?
THB: Jonathan "Bug" Howard has made some plays and there is freshman Ryan Switzer who is small but very fast.
GC: Is there anyone on the Hokies, on either side of the ball, that scares you or Tar Heels fans in general?
THB: I would say the defensive line and front seven in general. Watching them manhandle Georgia Tech was impressive and they fared very well against an Alabama offensive line which is usually very good.
GC: Who wins this one, why and by how much?
THB: I think Virginia Tech wins though it would be very #goacc is UNC somehow found a way. I have my concerns about the Tar Heels' ability to score points and despite some of Logan Thomas' struggles, UNC's defense is just in a bad place right now they the Hokies will get enough points. Call it 28-6.