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2011 Virginia Tech Football: What to Watch vs. North Carolina

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Virginia Tech Hokies (9-1, 5-1) vs. North Carolina Tar Heels (6-4, 2-4)

This is a game I think fans should worry about for a few reasons. First and foremost is the team coming to town tomorrow night is talented, well-rested and presumably ready to get the taste of a 13-0 defeat at the hands of their rivals out of their mouths. The Tar Heels had last week off after getting shut out at NC State and have a slew of players that will likely be successful in the NFL.

Next, this game doesn't mean anything to the Hokies in terms of the ACC standings. Lose to UNC and Tech can still claim the division with a win over UVa. Sure, a win plus a Wahoo loss to FSU would wrap up the division, but Tech doesn't lose control of its own destiny with a loss Thursday.

Finally, this game follows the Hokies' game against Georgia Tech (oddly enough, for the fourth consecutive season). It's been well-documented that teams with six days off or fewer after playing the Yellow Jackets haven't fared well. Preparing to face Paul Johnson's offense and then playing against it can do weird things to teams.

So far, it hasn't hurt the Hokies' defense too much. When the Hokies lost to UNC in 2009, the defense gave up 20 points and 4.4 yards per play, the fewest they've in the previous three match-ups with UNC. Tech also had the most days (11) to prepare for its post-Jacket game.

The theory that I've always had is that preparing for the option changes a defense's mindset and when faced with an offense that will line it up and try to beat you physically it can take some time to readjust. Again, that hasn't been the case so far for the Hokies. In 2010 (eight days to prepare) and 2008 (six), the Hokies allowed less than 4.0 ypc against the Tar Heels. The post-option let-down has bitten the Hokies once, but it was following a defeat that took them out of the hunt for the national and ACC title. 

In the end, the team that is better motivated and most ready to play will be the team that wins the game. One of these teams is bound to come out and lay an egg. Will it be the Tar Heels (who are already reading about who their next coach might be) or the Hokies (who don't need a win to win the conference)?

As usual, a lot of the stats (or raw data) come from

Virginia Tech Offense vs. North Carolina Defense

  • As I've mentioned before, Tech is not going to be able to throw its weight around against UNC like it did last week. This front seven is light years better than Georgia Tech's and has five high quality guys. One of the guys who could really be a factor isn't even listed first in the depth chart: Donte Paige-Moss.
  • Both Paige-Moss and Quinton Coples have a variety of moves they can throw at offensive linemen, but are really effective at just lowering the inside shoulder and getting to the quarterback with a burst of speed. They'll both present a big challenge to Andrew Lanier, Blake DeChristopher and Nick Becton.
  • Tech had trouble running the ball against these guys the last three years, but did manage 4.5 ypc last season. Once again, North Carolina has one of the better run defenses in the ACC and clearing the way for David Wilson will be a tall order for the interior linemen. I like Wilson's chances because of his speed, but he's not going to have any time to dance in the backfield against this team.
  • Most pro-style teams haven't had success running against the Heels, but teams that run out of the shotgun have done reasonably well, like Clemson and Wake Forest. It will be interesting to see if Tech's zone-read game with Wilson and Logan Thomas will be effective.
  • If we can get an average running game (4.3-4.7 ypc) against UNC, I think it will allow Thomas to pick apart UNC's secondary. The Heels have struggled against the pass this year, allowing 7.4 ypa in conference play. Charles Brown is very good at corner, but the injury to Matt Merletti has left the Heels vulnerable over the middle. Hopefully Danny Coale can have a big night.
  • Also, watch for UNC to play the cornerbacks well off the line of scrimmage. If we had Dyrell Roberts, this is where he could make plays. Instead, I'd like to see Tech try and get quick passes to the outside to Wilson and Jarrett Boykin to take advantage of the soft coverage when it's there.

Virginia Tech Defense vs. North Carolina Offense

  • The big key for the Hokies on defense will be getting pressure on UNC QB Bryn Renner. Renner will make mistakes when forced to make quick decisions. However, he's not immobile by any stretch of the imagination and can make plays with his arm and feet when flushed from the pocket. I think it's important for Tech to get pressure on him from the outside with its defensive ends. He'll be able to see pressure up the middle and be able to escape and make plays.
  • A lot of attention gets paid to Dwight Jones and with good reason. He's a big, talented receiver who's going to make a lot of money next year. But another guy to keep an eye on is Jheranie Boyd. Boyd's been a big-play threat for Carolina the last two seasons and could get loose against Tech's secondary if Jayron Hosley's hamstring is still an issue.
  • Running back Giovani Bernard has had an impressive freshman season, going over 1,000 yards with 11 touchdowns. He's a smaller back that will follow his blocks, wait for holes to develop. Plus, locating him when he's behind his massive offensive line will be a challenge for Barquell Rivers and Tech's defensive tackles.
  • One thing Tech can do to get the ball out of Bernard's hands is to take an early lead and make UNC throw the ball to try and mount a comeback. I think the less carries Bernard gets, the better off the Hokies are.
  • In addition to getting pressure on Renner, the other big key is forcing UNC to attempt field goals. Casey Barth is out for the season and freshman Thomas Moore is only two-for-four in nine games. However, it hasn't mattered a whole to Carolina because they haven't been forced to attempt many field goals. The Heels have scored touchdowns on 72 percent of their red zone chances in ACC play this year, best in the league. Tech's red zone defense is eighth in the ACC this year, giving up touchdowns on 60 percent of red zone possessions. 

Watch the Box Score

  • North Carolina Sacks Allowed
  • Virginia Tech YPA
  • Turnovers
  • North Carolina Red Zone %

Virginia Tech Players to Watch

  • 3 - Logan Thomas, So., QB
  • 68 - Jaymes Brooks, Sr., RG
  • 99 - James Gayle, So., DE
  • 15 - Eddie Whitley, Sr., ROV

North Carolina Players to Watch

  • 68 - James Hurst, So., LT
  • 87 - Jheranie Boyd, Jr., WR
  • 98 - Donte Paige-Moss, Jr., DE
  • 10 - Tre Boston, So., FS

Final Score

Virginia Tech 27, North Carolina 14