The Virginia Tech Hokies (2-2, 1-0) are back on the road Saturday after three consecutive home games as they travel to Chapel Hill to face the North Carolina Tar Heels (3-1, 0-0). The Hokies were dominated by West Virginia last Thursday and head to UNC with two days of extra rest.
Meanwhile, the Tar Heels are coming off their first loss of the season, a 45-32 defeat at the hands of Notre Dame. These teams enter Saturday's game with contrasting styles. The Hokies are the much better defensive team, while the Tar Heels are an explosive offensive team.
When: Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022
Time: 3:30 p.m. ET
Where: Kenan Stadium, Chapel Hill, North Carolina
Weather: High of degrees, 98% chance of rain, 10-15 MPH winds
TV: ACC Network
Radio: Virginia Tech Sports Network. You can find a list of affiliates here.
Odds: UNC is currently a 9-point favorite, per Odds Shark.
The Hokies lead the all-time series, 25-13-6. Since debuting in the ACC back in 2004, the Hokies are 14-4 against the Tar Heels. Even with Virginia Tech's struggles in recent years, it's still difficult to understand UNC's recent dominance over the Hokies on the recruiting trail.
There are some recent notable meetings in this series. The two teams kicked off the 2021 season under the lights in Blacksburg, with the Hokies coming out 17-10 winners. Virginia Tech's defense dominated Sam Howell and the Tar Heels, knocking them out of the top 10.
It's expected to be an ugly day in Chapel Hill Saturday due to Hurricane Ian. Does anyone remember the last time the Hokies and Heels played in a rain-soaked Kenan Stadium? It was back in 2016, and Mitch Trubisky, much like the team he quarterbacked, was severely overrated. The Hokies dominated North Carolina, winning 34-3, leading many UNC fans to blame the rain. That was an interesting excuse.
Virginia Tech offense vs. North Carolina defense
This should be an interesting matchup for all of the wrong reasons. Virginia Tech's offense is punchless. Sure, it's a new regime with an offense that lacks talent across the board, but there doesn't appear to be any creativity. Perhaps, offensive coordinator Tyler Bowen is severely limited from running what he wants to run, but Tech's running game is especially unimaginative.
Quarterback Grant Wells has made fewer mistakes in recent weeks, but he seems to struggle more when he is in a game-manager role. Wells' strength is letting it rip, but this team doesn't have the margin for error to let Wells play like a gunslinger. Bowen should use Wells more on designed runs to aid a stagnant running game.
One reason Virginia Tech's running game has struggled is the absence of Malachi Thomas. Keshawn King and Thomas would make a good one-two punch for the Hokies, but Thomas has yet to play due to injury. The Hokies would love to have him back Saturday and allow King to be featured more in a pass-catching role.
Wide receiver Kaleb Smith has been Virginia Tech's most consistent offensive performer. He and Wells appear to have good chemistry. The Hokies need other receivers, such as Da'Wain Lofton to step up and take advantage of their opportunities, even if they are limited. Tight end Nick Gallo has been a good weapon for Wells, while QB/WR/TE Connor Blumrick needs to be featured more. Blumrick can do everything and should play the majority of Virginia Tech's offensive snaps.
UNC's defense should provide opportunities for the Hokies' offense to get going. The Tar Heels are allowing almost 40 points per game and struggled with Appalachian State and Georgia State. Considering all of those four- and five-star players UNC has on its defense, the lack of success is a surprise. North Carolina's defense is as dreadful against the run (216 yards per game) as it is against the (278 yards per game).
Virginia Tech defense vs. North Carolina offense
Sam Howell may be gone, but Drake Maye is the real deal. The 6-foot-4 freshman is completing 67% of his passes, with 1,231 yards, 16 touchdowns and only one interception. He's a bigger version of Howell and can also run the football. Virginia Tech is certainly envious of UNC's QB luck going from Howell to Maye.
The Tar Heels average 46.5 points per game, which ranks No. 8 nationally. North Carolina is No. 16 in total offense, averaging 502 yards per game. WVU is ranked two spots below the Heels. Even with last week's disappointing loss, the Hokies rank No. 10 in total defense. It's going to be difficult to hold down UNC's offense, although the weather could help limit the passing game. Tech's defense played well last week before wearing down in the fourth quarter. The Hokies received very little offensive support against the Mountaineers.
Freshman Omarion Hampton is UNC's leading rusher. Hampton has ran for 256 yards and five touchdowns. As a team, Carolina ranks No. 33 in rushing offense, averaging 194 yards rushing per game.
Wide receiver Josh Downs is UNC's top offensive player. Downs hasn't really got going with 14 receptions for 110 yards but leads the team with four touchdown receptions. Maye likes to spread the ball around as six different UNC players have at least nine receptions.
The Hokies need some from the rain to limit UNC's offense.
We'll save our predictions for Saturday morning, but the weather should have a major impact on this game. The Tar Heels are easily the more talented team. That's not up for debate. What the Hokies need is to be more disciplined. Virginia Tech wants to always be the more physical, hard-hitting team, but head coach Brent Pry is still trying to establish this team's identity.
Ideally, the weather keeps this game close. It's hard to see Thomas returning Saturday with a sloppy field. Virginia Tech needs to find its running game. If that happens, this game should be close. UNC's defense provides an ideal opportunity for the Hokies, but will they take advantage?