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Five Things to Watch For: North Carolina

After a not-great loss to Notre Dame, the Hokies will look to rebound against a not-great UNC team in Kenan Memorial Stadium.

NCAA Football: North Carolina at Virginia Tech Lee Luther Jr.-USA TODAY Sports

Okay, moving on again. That loss stings- not that Tech couldn’t’ve won that game, but not like they were really expected to, either. Just…blech. Let’s get to North Carolina before I wax philosophic on it.

Virginia Tech Hokies (3-2, 2-0 ACC) at North Carolina Tar Heels (1-3, 1-1 ACC)

Gametime: 7:00PM

Location: Kenan Memorial Stadium, Chapel Hill, North Carolina

Broadcast: ESPNU

Radio: National: Sirius XM 211, XM 281, Internet 967. | Local WBRW 105.3 FM (Blacksburg Local) | Virginia Tech IMG Sports Network

Back to the backburner, then. Until the team can find consistency, it’s really where I expect to be- though again, this is somewhat of a no-expectations season, so let’s move forward with examining North Carolina…and they’re, well, not good. Granted, ODU wasn’t good and isn’t good and look what they did to us. But at the moment UNC has a grand total of one win over another brutally unimpressive ACC Coastal team in Pittsburgh. Other than that, they’ve lost to the sterling trio of California, East Carolina, and, well, Miami- though ECU and Miami trounced them.

Their Leading Stat Getters:

Passing: Nathan Elliott 75/129, 773 yards, 3TDS, 4INTs.

Rushing: Antonio Williams 43 attempts, 281 yards, 6.5 avg, 3TDs. Jordon Brown 34 attempts, 137 yards, 4.0 avg, 2 TDs. Nathan Elliott 26 yards, 1.2 avg, 0 TDs. Michael Carter 13 attempts, 103 yards, 7.9avg, 0TDs.

Receiving: Anthony Ratliff 13 receptions, 263 yards, 20.2ypc, 1 TD. Dazz Newsome 13 receptions, 128 yards, 9.8ypc, 0TDs. Thomas Jackson 9 receptions, 58 yards, 6.4ypc, 0TDs. Jordon Brown 9 receptions 52 yards, 5.8 ypc, 0TDs. Multiple other players with a very limited number of catches and a smattering of yards.

Well, some of the news is that the semi-split quarterback situation for UNC is over- Chazz Surratt is out for the year, which is why he wasn’t mentioned above. He was not great this year, as he’d thrown only 4/10 with 3 INTs

Defensive/Special Teams Statistics:

-63 point differential, opponents score 36.8ppg. Average 6.4ypa, 5.0ypc, and average 386.2 total yards per game overall. Kickers are 7-9 on attempts while 5-6 against. They have 11 sacks for 81 lost yards and have given up 4 sacks for 32 lost yards.

Leading defenders: Cole Holcomb 28 total tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, 1 sack. Myles Wolfolk 23 total tackles, 1 tackle for loss. Dominique Ross 20 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss. J.K. Britt, 18 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss. Malik Carney 13 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles.

Their defensive statistics aren’t OVERLY impressive, but they spread out the tackles a LOT, which makes writing that above list a bit of a problem. 14 players have at least a half tackle for loss and 8 players have at least half a sack. They’ve only recovered one fumble and have only one interception. They’re not a big-play defense by any stretch of the imagination. They also give up a 45% conversion rate on third downs, which is…a lot.

Five Things to Watch For:

1. Missing and Returned Tar Heels

Besides Chazz Surratt’s injury, the Tar Heels will also be missing Malik Carney, as he’s suspended for his role in selling school-issued Jordan Brand shoes. A key cog in their defensive line, Carney’s loss isn’t going to be easy for them to replace. . However, the returning players include OL Brian Anderson, OL Quiron Johnson, OL Jordan Tucker, WR Beau Corrales, DE Tomon Fox, DE Tyrone Hopper, and LB Malik Robinson. Of those, Fox returns four sacks from last year, and Corrales returns nine catches and three touchdowns. Beyond that, most of the suspended players are redshirt freshmen not entirely expected to play huge roles. Fox could start considering Carney is missing.

2. Would the real secondary please stand up?

It’s looking more and more like the pre-supposed Achilles heel of Virginia Tech’s defense, the young secondary, is exactly that. While the linebackers have managed to hold up OKAY, the corners and safeties are getting pushed like crazy, especially with starter Divine Deablo still suffering through tweaks that might potentially make him miss a third game this year. If he could come back healthy that would be a huge boon to a struggling unit. Reggie Floyd has obviously been the most consistent performer, but he’s also obviously the most senior. Having a young secondary has been particularly difficult this year against a lot of veteran offenses.

3. Can Damon Hazelton keep up the pace?

All the pre-season excitement about what Damon Hazelton could do is currently in the process of being pretty much true. He is easily leading the Hokies in receiving yardage at 479 yards, and is at a pace to break 1,000 yards in his first active season as the Hokies’ leading receiver. And while I wouldn’t expect the current average of a touchdown a game to keep up, it’s currently got him at a multi-place tie for 27th in the nation (Granted if you look at some of the top players on the list it’s bonkers that John Ursua of Hawaii has 12TDs and 801 yards, but they run an air raid and have already played seven games). He’s definitely the biggest mismatch that the Hokies can field against the Tar Heels, and probably most of the rest of the teams on the schedule.

4. So…can our scoring/offense get on track?

52 passing attempts. 33 rushing attempts. 441 total yards. That’s not supposed to be the numbers behind a 23 point score in this day and age. But the issue is that Tech settled for field goals a LOT. A combination of good plays by Notre Dame and the Hokies shooting themselves in the foot repeatedly tamped down the scoring, and there were a lot of between-the-twenties drives that died out. Oddly there wasn’t a lot of punting in the game, either. But between two turnovers- one for an immediate touchdown- a missed field goal- that went for a touchdown shortly afterward- and another missed field goal, Tech’s offense left opportunity on the board. Football Outsiders won’t publish their offensive efficiency stats until after Week 7, but after last year’s offensive touchdown rate had us ranked 89th in the nation (23.4%), let’s see where we are once they publish. By rough math- counting ALL DRIVES, including ones at either end of game or ones where the offense gave up at end of half, the Hokies are currently only marginally better at 30.4%. Now, that number goes slightly higher when removing tiny drives like victory formations, but even then, that would have ranked us somewhere in the forties- and that number is VERY MUCH inflated by how well the offense walloped William and Mary. Removing that outlier- so against purely FBS competition- the offense has a touchdown rate of 22.8%, which is even lower than last year. Not great.

5. Is the streak going to continue?

After losses, Justin Fuente’s squads are 8-1. That’s a good number. Let’s hope they keep it up against a UNC team that isn’t very good and should be, not a walkover, but a simple game that hopefully they can beat.

Go Hokies.