When Logan Thomas found D.J. Coles in the back of the end zone to put Virginia Tech ahead 24-7, most assumed the game was over. I did, the Hokies did, the announcers did and obviously the crowd at Lane Stadium did because all of us phoned it in the rest of the way.
Instead, the Tech offense did very little and North Carolina scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns to make it interesting in what turned out to be a 24-21 Hokie victory.
Tech really only played well in quarters two and three and it was enough to beat the Tar Heels Thursday night in Blacksburg. It was a game that neither side seemed terribly interested in playing and in which both teams made mistakes that would have come back to bite them against teams that cared.
On defense, the Hokies gave up yards in chunks until UNC freshman running back Giovanni Bernard suffered what was reported to be a concussion with about five minutes left in the first half. That injury, coupled with replacing Barquell Rivers with Jack Tyler at mike linebacker, helped stop the Tar Heel ground game and allowed the Hokies to build their lead in the middle two quarters.
Logan Thomas had a successful night, completing mostly screens and swing passes to take advantage of the soft coverage Carolina showed by playing its cornerbacks back most of the night. These dinks and dunks finally set up a deep route to Jarrett Boykin for a 39-yard gain on third-and-nine that paved the way for the touchdown pass to Coles.
While Thomas played well, David Wilson found little traction against a Carolina front seven that was good enough to take away the cut-backs he usually thrives on. UNC's defensive line was dominant most of the night and was able to hold Wilson to 82 yards and get constant pressure on Thomas, resulting in two sacks.
The defense, which went from looking terrible in the first quarter to like the best in the ACC in the second and third, went back to terrible in the fourth quarter when it gave up a couple of big plays that led to UNC scores.
First, Dwight Jones had a 20-yard catch that put the Heels at the VT 25-yard line that resulted in a touchdown. Then, with under four minutes to play, Bryn Renner completed two long passes, including a 64-yarder to a wide open Erik Highsmith that put the Heels at the Hokie two yard line.
The good news is that it didn't matter. UNC scored, but touched the ball illegally on the onside kick. Want more good news? Tech won despite suffering what was probably a let-down after the win against Georgia Tech. This game didn't matter in the standings and the Hokies still wound up on the right side of the scoreboard. There are plenty of teachable moments from this game for the coaching staff without any of the drawbacks of losing.
Also, we won't have to face UNC's big and talented offensive and defensive lines next week. Virginia has much-improved lines on both side of the ball, but they don't have quite the size and experience we saw tonight from UNC. The Hoos will probably still give us a dogfight, but it will be one we have a better chance of winning up front.
Carolina was a formidable foe. We knew the Heels were a talented team, they beat us physically on both sides of the ball and they took advantage of most of the mistakes we made. This game could have been a blowout and probably should have been, but the fact it wasn't is a testament to how talented Carolina is and how much execution matters to this Virginia Tech team.
When the execution is there and we're playing a team we can dominate up front, we get games like we saw last week against Georgia Tech. When it's not there and we play teams with talented linemen, we get games like we saw tonight against Carolina.