2007 Football Game Preview: Virginia Tech vs. North Carolina

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Saturday, September 29th, 2007, noon

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Game Preview: #17 Virginia Tech (3-1, 0-0 ACC) vs. North Carolina (2-2,
0-1)


by Chris Coleman, TechSideline.com

Virginia Tech’s most important game of the season so far is this Saturday
against UNC. Throw out the much-anticipated matchup with LSU, the rebound game
against Ohio, and the emotional season-opener against ECU. This is conference
play, and with a win the Hokies will take the first step to their goal of a
Coastal Division title.

North Carolina appears to have improved under first year head coach Butch
Davis. As usual, the Tar Heels haven’t cowered away from playing a tough
schedule. They have faced East Carolina and South Florida out-of-conference, as
well as UVA, so they will be battle-tested when they arrive at Lane Stadium on
Saturday.

Although they are 1-3, UNC could easily be 3-1. The Tar Heels lost 34-31 on a
last second field goal by East Carolina, and then dropped a 22-20 heartbreaker
to UVA when they missed a two point conversion.

As usual, UNC has some very good players at certain positions, but they lack
the overall talent and experience across the board to make much noise in the
ACC. That will change over time under Davis, but this year he doesn’t have a
whole lot to work with.

The UNC Offense

North Carolina has some talent on offense, but like the Hokies, they don’t
have the total package. They have a talented but young quarterback and three
receivers who can make plays. They also have question marks in the offensive
backfield, as well as a sub par offensive line.

UNC
Offense
Category Stat ACC
Rank
National
Rank

Rushing Offense
79.5 ypg 11 110

Passing Offense
248.75 ypg 3 42

Total Offense
328.25 ypg 6 91

Scoring Offense
24.5 ppg 5 75

Passing Efficiency
145.89 2 23

The Tar Heels’ passing game is much more advanced than their running game at
this stage. Butch Davis went with r-freshman T.J. Yates, who has flashed the
ability to make big plays in the passing game. For the season, he has completed
60% of his passes for 986 yards. He has thrown nine touchdown passes and seven
interceptions.

Things were going smoothly for Yates, until he went up against South Florida
last Saturday. Entering the game with an impressive 9:3
touchdown-to-interception ratio, he finally had a bad game against the Bulls.
Yates had just 85 passing yards and tossed four interceptions.

He’s talented, but has he hit a wall? Many new quarterbacks are successful
early in the season, but once enough game film has been accumulated, defensive
coordinators are able to adjust to their tendencies. Saturday’s game at South
Florida could be an early indication that they are doing just that.

UNC
has had a lot of trouble running the ball, ranking 110th nationally. To try to
solve their running woes, the Tar Heels pulled the redshirt off 6-2, 245
tailback Ryan Houston against South Florida. Houston responded with 11 carries
for 43 yards and a touchdown, the most impressive performance of all the backs.
He is a between-the-tackles power runner. Expect to see him a lot on Saturday.

The Tar Heels have also used Johnny White (5-10, 210, r-Fr.), Richie Rich
(5-9, 195, So) and Anthony Elzy (5-10, 210, r-Fr.). Look for White and Houston
to get the bulk of the work against Virginia Tech.

UNC’s strength on offense is their wide receivers. They are all big-play
threats. Hakeem Nicks (6-1, 215, So.) is the leading receiver right now, with 18
catches for 243 yards and three touchdowns. He is similar to Josh Morgan in
size. Nicks is a very talented player who was a Freshman All-American last
season. He’s only gotten better since then, and now he has a better quarterback
to get him the ball.

Brooks Foster (6-3, 205, Jr.) is also a very dangerous player for Butch
Davis. Foster has 15 catches for 277 yards and two touchdowns. Brandon Tate
(6-1, 195, Jr.) has eight catches for 214 yards, for a whopping 26.8 yards per
catch. He also has three touchdowns. UNC’s trio of receivers are big-play guys,
especially Foster and Tate. None of them average less than 13.5 yards per catch.
Tate is also a major special teams contributor.

The Tar Heels have talented receivers, a good young quarterback and possibly
an emerging tailback. However, they lack the horses on the offensive line that
are needed to make an offense go. They are fairly similar to Virginia Tech: A
talented young quarterback, good wideouts, and a struggling running game.

UNC has the most experience at center, right guard and right tackle. Center
Scott Lenaham (6-1, 290, Sr.), right guard Calvin Darity (6-3, 295, Jr.) and
right tackle Garrett Reynolds (6-7, 300, Jr.) are all returning starters. The
Tar Heels will likely run off this side of the offensive line in short yardage
situations.

UNC is attempting to find balance on their offense. Their running game has
struggled, and they are hoping Houston can give them a boost. If their running
game improves and becomes somewhat competent, their offense can be dangerous as
we begin ACC play. However, if they stay one dimensional, ACC defenses will eat
them alive, beginning this Saturday.

The UNC Defense

UNC’s defense has a lot of young players. Many freshmen are seeing time for
defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano. As a result, the Tar Heels’ defense hasn’t
been very good this year, although they have some talent.

UNC
Defense
Category Stat ACC
Rank
National
Rank

Rushing Defense
151.25 ypg 9 64

Passing Defense
223.25 ypg 6 59

Total Defense
374.5 ypg 10 60

Scoring Defense
26.75 ppg 10 68

Passing Efficiency
135.87 11 84

At defensive end, the Tar Heels have the explosive Hilee Taylor (6-3, 245, Sr.).
Taylor abused the Hokies last year for two tackles for loss and a sack. He’s
having a very good senior season in Chapel Hill. So far, he has posted 15
tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks and forced three fumbles through four
games. Those are some excellent numbers, and he’s putting himself in position to
make a run for All-ACC honors.

UNC likes to move Taylor around, and he’ll be lined up opposite both Duane
Brown and Nick Marshman. Marshman struggled with Taylor in Chapel Hill last
season. Marshman always struggles with fast, explosive defensive ends, which
would be an accurate way to describe Hilee Taylor. Marshman in particular will
need help blocking Taylor on the edge.

The rest of UNC’s defensive line doesn’t provide the threat that Taylor does,
but with Tech’s struggling offensive line, they will still be a challenge. The
Tar Heels will use a number of defensive tackles, including Tavares Brown (6-0,
290, So.), Kentwan Balmer (6-5, 295, Sr.), Aleric Mullins (6-3, 295, So.),
Marvin Austin (6-3, 295, Fr.) and Cam Thomas (6-4, 325, So.).

This is a young group that has plenty of talent, especially Marvin Austin, a
true freshman who was a 5-star recruit and the #1 defensive tackle in the nation
coming out of high school.

UNC
Defensive Tackles
Name Year HS
Rank

Marvin Austin

Fr.

#1 overall DT

Tavares Brown

So.

#13 overall in NC

Aleric Mullins

So.

#2 overall in NC

Cam Thomas

So.

#16 overall in NC

Aleric Mullins was also a national level recruit, ranked as high as the #3
defensive tackle in the country by ESPN. When this group matures, they are going
to be hard to handle.

The other starting defensive end is E.J. Wilson (6-2, 265, So.), a Virginia
native. Wilson has 2.5 tackles for loss and a sack on the season, as well as two
fumble recoveries. The Tar Heels like to rotate players up front, keeping
everybody fresh. Although the Tar Heels are young up front, I don’t see Tech
getting a consistent push between the tackles. The Hokies are likely to get more
yardage on misdirection and outside rushing plays.

UNC’s top linebacker is weak side backer Durell Mapp (6-2, 225, Sr.). Mapp
leads the team and the ACC with 50 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and a sack. He
is a former walkon who also led the Tar Heels in tackles last season. He is the
one experienced player in a pretty inexperienced group.

Middle linebacker Wesley Flagg (6-0, 240, So.) is in his first year as a
starter after playing sparingly as a true freshman last season. He splits time
with Mark Paschal (6-0, 230, Jr.). Neither player has distinguished himself thus
far in 2007.

The Tar Heels rely on a true freshman at strong side linebacker. Bruce Carter
(6-3, 220, Fr.) is the starter. Like many other players on UNC’s defense, he was
highly-touted coming out of high school.

UNC starts two more freshmen in the secondary. Cornerback Kendrick Burney
(5-9, 180, r-Freshman) is a good athlete who also plays on the Tar Heel baseball
team. He is currently second on the team in tackles with 21, and that’s not a
good sign for a cornerback. Tech should go after him with some of their bigger
receivers, like Josh Morgan and Justin Harper.

The other freshman in the secondary is free safety Deunta Williams (6-2, 195,
r-Fr.), a former SuperPrep All-American and one of the top five recruits coming
out of North Carolina as a senior. He has one interception on the season.

The Tar Heel defense got a boost when Trimane Goddard (5-11, 195, Jr.)
returned this season. He missed all of 2006 with an injury, but he is back to
reclaim is rightful spot in the starting lineup in 2007. He has a tackle for
loss and an interception thus far, and is generally considered the top player in
UNC’s secondary.

The final starter is cornerback Kendric Williams (5-11, 195, Sr.). Williams
is a walkon who was not awarded a scholarship until 2007. He spent his first
three years as a walkon.

The obvious weakness in UNC’s defense is at cornerback, where they start a
freshman and a player who nearly spent his entire career as a walkon. It seems
like the Hokies should aggressively attack Burney and Williams, but is this a
good idea with a true freshman quarterback? Also, consider that Tech never
passes the ball well against UNC.

Tech
Passing vs. UNC, 2004-06
Year Comp.
Att.
Yards TDs INTs
2004 7-18 100 0 0
2005 8-15 61 1 1
2006 10-17 66 0 0
Totals 25-50 227 1 1

Those totals don’t include the one pass Ike Whitaker attempted and completed for
a touchdown in garbage time in 2006. It’s easy to see that Tech has struggled
mightily throwing the ball against UNC since they joined the ACC, even with
All-ACC quarterbacks Bryan Randall and Marcus Vick at the helm.

Special Teams

Connor Barth (6-1, 190, Sr.) is a very good placekicker for the Tar Heels. He
is 3-of-3 so far this season. He was 10-of-10 last year, with a long of 54. He
is a big-time weapon for Butch Davis, and you won’t see UNC afraid to take field
goal attempts. They need points any way they can get them, and Barth is capable
of delivering.

Terrence Brown (6-3, 190, Jr.) is having a very nice season as UNC’s punter.
He is averaging 40.5 yards per punt, and nine of his punts have been downed
inside the 20. Opponents are averaging just 5.7 yards per return against the Tar
Heels.

Brandon Tate is a big-time return weapon for the Tar Heels. He will return
kickoffs and punts. He is averaging 11 yards per punt return on the season, with
one returned for a touchdown. He is also averaging 26.9 yards per kick return.
He is one of only nine players in NCAA history to return a kickoff and punt for
a touchdown in the same game.

Tate has returned four total kicks for a touchdown in his career. He returned
a punt 34 yards against Virginia Tech last season. The Hokies’ special teams
have to be on top of their game on Saturday.

Conclusion

The Hokies are going to win this game, I’m pretty certain of that. The only
question is how good will they look doing it, and how much will they win by?
Those questions are hard to answer. UNC has a young, struggling defense, and the
Hokies have an offense that features a sub par offensive line and a true
freshman quarterback. It’s the case of the stoppable force vs. the moveable
object. I’ll be the first to admit that I have no idea how that one will turn
out.

I expect that Tech will have some success running the ball against UNC,
especially to the outside. UNC has a young defense, and young defenses tend to
make mistakes. Tech has some places to attack with their misdirection spread
plays, such as true freshman linebacker Bruce Carter. The Hokies aren’t as bad
as they showed against William & Mary, and I don’t think they’ll get shut
down by UNC. Of course, they won’t run over the Tar Heels either.

Defensively, I think Virginia Tech will shut down UNC for most of the day.
The Tar Heels are a one dimensional football team right now, and one dimensional
teams don’t do much against Virginia Tech, unless the quarterback is very good
and very experienced.

T.J. Yates has talent, but he’s only a r-freshman. His confidence, which was
probably sky-high following his success in the first three games, likely took a
big hit with his 85-yard, 4-interception performance against USF last week. Now
he must face one of the top defenses in the nation on their own home field, with
no running game to help him out.

I think it’s going to be a struggle for Yates and the UNC offense, and the
Hokies will gradually pull away for the win.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 24, UNC 6

Will Stewart’s Take: The book on UNC is that they’re playing harder under
Butch Davis than they did under John Bunting. They’re not giving up and
continuing to battle. The knock on Butch Davis-coached teams is that they’re
undisciplined, and that Davis isn’t a good game day coach. On the discipline
side, the quickest thing you can do is check out penalties (7th in the ACC, not
bad) and turnover margin (11th in the ACC at -1.25, pumped up by Yates’ four
INTs last weekend).

Throw out what you know about UNC vs. Tech, because the Tar Heels have a new
coach, and the Hokies have lost confidence on offense, after a month of
struggling. If you examine the matchups, you find that UNC has a middling rush
defense (151 yards per game, 64th in the nation), so it’s possible the Hokies
could find some success there, but there’s no guarantee. ECU (75th), Ohio (94th)
and William & Mary (273 yards per game given up) did a good job against
Tech’s rushing game, so one can only hope that the Hokies will regroup as they
start the ACC schedule and do a better job on the ground.

As Chris outlined, UNC has some talent on defense, particularly in their
front seven, though the pieces haven’t come together yet. The Heels give up
374.5 yards per game, 60th in the NCAA. If the Hokies can’t handle UNC’s
defensive line, ACC leading tackler Durrell Mapp will run free at his linebacker
spot and rack up some tackles.

My guess is that barring an unexpected resurrection, the Hokie rushing game
won’t roll up a lot of yards this weekend, and that will put the pressure on
Tyrod Taylor and Tech’s tight ends and wide receivers to produce.

Defensively, I think the Hokies will have a good game. T.J. Yates is a real
Jekyll and Hyde type. I saw his performance against Virginia (25-of-38, 339
yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT) and was impressed with his playmaking ability, but there’s
no defending his performance against South Florida (4 INTs, 85 yards passing —
yech).

I’m betting that playing at Lane Stadium, against Bud Foster’s defense, Yates
will have a less than impressive performance. Surely Foster’s troops can
replicate what USF did to shut Yates down. The Bulls have the 7th-ranked defense
in the NCAA, but the Hokies have the horses on D to match what USF did.

On special teams, punting appears to be a wash, as do most things. It’s hard
to tell, with field goal kicking.

I think the Heels will turn the ball over against the Hokies, and as long as
Tech doesn’t reciprocate in kind, the Hokies will be fine. Beyond that, it’s
hard to predict what’s going to happen here, because Tech’s offense is in flux
and has had a weak running game so far.

Will’s Prediction: Hokies 24, Heels 10

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