After two blowout wins, many around the nation were still skeptical of the Virginia Tech Hokies. Could Tech go on the road—in miserable conditions, nonetheless—and defeat reigning ACC Coastal Division champion North Carolina?
Well, after the Hokies took Carolina to the woodshed, thrashing the Tar Heels, 34-3, many of those doubters turned into believers.
UNC fans—if there are any (did you see Kenan Stadium on Saturday?), can’t make the excuse about the weather. After all, the Hokies played in the same conditions. The truth is, the Heels probably were a bit overrated entering this season. The ACC Coastal Division was an abomination in recent years and the Tar Heels took advantage of that in 2015.
UNC and Kenan Stadium management would like to thank Virginia Tech Hokie fans for today's attendance pic.twitter.com/syyh74LHVf— Not A Fan Of Blue (@NotAFanOfBlue) October 8, 2016
However, the real story about the Coastal this season: Virginia Tech is back.
Sure, it’s too soon to crown the Hokies, but they’re on the right track. It’s tough to find a better pairing than head coach Justin Fuente and defensive coordinator Bud Foster.
Here are five takeaways from Tech’s impressive victory over North Carolina:
Virginia Tech’s Defense is Elite
We all know Foster is an elite, hall-of-fame-level defensive coordinator. Talent’s been the issue recently, though. This season, everything is clicking for Foster and the Hokies.
The defensive line is deep and talented. Ken Ekanem is arguably the ACC’s best pass rusher this fall and the defensive tackle group is among the nation’s top individual units. Woody Baron, Nigel Williams and Tim Settle are having a fine season.
The secondary, despite losing longtime DB coach Torrian Gray, is thriving under the joint leadership of Galen Scott and Brian Mitchell.
Saturday’s win over UNC was one of Foster’s best performances in years. UNC entered the game with one of the most explosive offensive units in the country. Standout wide receiver Ryan Switzer had two catches for two yards.
Virginia Tech football's defense is ranked 1st nationally for Team Passing Efficiency Defense and First down defense after week 6— FOX Sports Radio1340 (@1340AMFOXSports) October 10, 2016
Overall, the Heels finished with 131 total yards.
131 total yards.
Jerod Evans Did His Job
Conditions, of course, were less than ideal. Virginia Tech quarterback Jerod Evans completed just 7 of 17 passes for 75 yards. However, he did pass for two touchdowns and took care of the football. He avoided the big mistake, something Mitch Trubisky couldn’t do.
Evans also rushed for 49 yards and another score.
Numbers don’t tell the whole story regarding Evans’ performance. He was calm under pressure and his command of the offense is getting better by the week.
Deshaun Watson and Lamar Jackson continue to get the headlines, and rightfully so, but Evans is having a terrific debut season.
Andrew Motuapuaka Had His Best Career Game
The junior linebacker was the most maligned player on Virginia Tech’s roster entering the season. Fans crushed Motuapuaka for his missed tackles, being out of position and overall inconsistent play.
He looks like a different player in 2016.
Against UNC, Motuapuaka roamed sideline to sideline, racking up 12 tackles to lead the team, an interception and ½ a sack.
It’s no coincidence Tech’s defense is better this fall with the improvement of Motuapuaka. Foster has remained confident in the junior from Virginia Beach and that faith is paying off now. Motuapuaka trusts his instincts more and the defensive line is keeping him clean, allowing him to roam free.
His continued development should be a fun storyline to watch as the games begin to gain even more importance with each win.
No Serious Injuries
When Isaiah Ford went down with an ankle injury, Hokie fans were concerned. Was one game really worth losing your best player? Fortunately, though, we learned Ford’s injury wasn’t serious and he could’ve returned to the game if he needed.
Fuente doesn’t see any reason why Ford won’t play Saturday at Syracuse.
#Hokies coach Justin Fuente said wide receiver Isaiah Ford "looks fine" and it sounds like he'll be able to play Saturday at Syracuse.— Mike Barber (@RTD_MikeBarber) October 10, 2016
Saturday was the first time in his Ford’s career he was held without a catch. Did you see him moping on the sideline? Nope. Another reason to love and appreciate the ACC’s best wide receiver.
The more concerning injury appeared to be that of Settle. The big freshman went down with what appeared to be a lower leg injury. After the game, Settle appeared OK, dancing and enjoying the win with his teammates.
The big guy let everyone know after the game he would be just fine.
I'll be good— Tim Settle Jr (@tim_settle) October 9, 2016
The Hokies were extremely fortunate to leave Chapel Hill with no serious injuries.
The Hokies Control Their Own Destiny
There is a long way to go, folks. A long way. Seven games, six conference games, is an eternity. But, one of Tech’s biggest competitors—UNC— is already down one to the Hokies.
With that being said, Virginia Tech must still play at Pittsburgh and host Miami. Tech will also travel to Notre Dame in November, but remember, the Fighting Irish are just a fringe member of the ACC so that’s considered a non-conference game.
This weekend, Tech travels to Syracuse. While the Orange won’t remind anyone of the Donovan McNabb-led teams of the 90s, Syracuse is re-energized under new coach Dino Babers.
Games against Georgia Tech and Duke won’t be easy either. But with the way this Virginia Tech team is playing right now, it’s hard to imagine anyone but Pittsburgh and Miami knocking the Hokies off.