2008 Football Game Preview: Virginia Tech at North Carolina

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Saturday, September 20th, 2008, 3:30

TV: ABC (coverage map)/ESPN

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


by Chris Coleman, TechSideline.com

Virginia Tech’s recent victory over Georgia Tech makes this weekend’s game
even more critical. The Hokies will travel to Chapel Hill to take on a resurgent
North Carolina team with dreams of winning the ACC this year. Just like last
week, Tech will have to scratch and claw to the end if they want to leave with a
victory.

North Carolina is 2-0 on the season, and at this point it’s hard to tell
exactly how good they are. In the first game, they barely knocked off 1-AA
McNeese State 35-27. However, they rebounded to blow out Rutgers 44-12 on the
road last Thursday night. The Heels were outgained in total offensive yards in
both games.

Despite that, the Tar Heels match up with the Hokies very well at some key
positions.

The UNC Offense

North Carolina has a talented quarterback playing behind an experienced
offensive line, with excellent wide receivers on the outside. That’s the recipe
for a very good passing game, which is exactly what the Tar Heels have.

Before we get into that, let’s take a look at the UNC offensive line. After
all, football games are won at the line of scrimmage.


UNC Offensive Line

Pos

Name

Ht

Wt

Year

Experience

LT

Kyle Jolly

6-6

300

Jr.

2nd year as starter

LG

Byron Bishop

6-4

310

Sr.

7 career games

C

Aaron Stahl

6-3

290

Jr.

Started at LG in 2007

RG

Calvin Darity

6-3

310

Sr.

3rd year as starter

RT

Garrett Reynolds

6-7

310

Sr.

3rd year as starter

The right side of the UNC offensive line is clearly their strong point. Darity
and Reynolds are in their third season as starters, and center Aaron Stahl is in
his second, though he actually played guard last year. The Tar Heels tried to
run off the right side a lot against Rutgers. The left side of the line isn’t
nearly as experienced. Despite being a senior, Byron Bishop had played in just
seven career games heading into this season, and most of his snaps came on
special teams.

That
offensive line is assigned to protect one of the most talented young
quarterbacks in the country. T.J. Yates (6-3, 210, r-So.) showed a lot of
promise last year as a freshman, and he looks legit so far this year. He is
29-of-48 (60.4%) for 442 yards, with five touchdowns and just one interception.

Yates is a very advanced quarterback for his age. It’s really amazing he is
this good so quickly. He did not play football as a junior in high school,
instead concentrating on basketball. He was one of the top 25 basketball
recruits in the state of Georgia. He also missed spring practice this year,
which is a critical time of development for young quarterbacks. Nevertheless,
he’s still playing at a high level.

Yates is helped by what appears to be the best wide receiving corps in the
ACC. Hakeem Nicks (6-1, 210, Jr.), in my opinion, is the best all-around wide
receiver in the conference. Last season he caught 74 passes for 958 yards and
five touchdowns. Those 74 catches are a single season UNC record. He is a
similar receiver to former Hokie Josh Morgan, with a good blend of size,
strength and speed.

The receiver making the early headlines is wide receiver Brandon Tate (6-1,
195, Sr.). Tate is UNC’s leading rusher with five carries for 125 yards
and a touchdown. He also has eight catches for 231 yards and two touchdowns.
That’s 13 offensive touches for a total of 358 yards. So far on the season, Tate
is averaging 27.5 yards every time he touches the ball on offense.

Offense isn’t all he specializes in. Tate has four punt returns for 146 yards
with one touchdown, and he has three kick returns for 114 yards. He leads the
nation in all-purpose yardage. The following table sums it up.


Brandon Tate’s Production

Category

Touches

Yards

Average

Touchdowns

Rushing

5

125

25

1

Receiving

8

231

28.9

2

Kick Return

3

114

38

0

Punt Return

4

146

36.5

1

Total

20

616

30.8

4

You don’t need to be a football genius to realize that’s impressive. To give you
a bit of perspective, Tate has almost as many receiving yards (231) as the
Virginia Tech offense has passing yards (255).

Brooks Foster (6-3, 205, Sr.) is a solid #3 receiver who will see plenty of
playing time. He had 29 catches last season and 38 in 2006. He is a very
experienced player. The Hokies can’t completely ignore him to focus on Hicks and
Tate.

UNC’s
running game hasn’t been that impressive this year, except for reverses to
Brandon Tate. Greg Little (6-3, 220, So.) is a converted possession receiver who
is not a natural running back. He doesn’t hit the hole hard enough, and he
doesn’t have a whole lot of wiggle in his game.

Shaun Draughn (6-0, 205, So.) has been UNC’s most impressive back running the
football so far. He is averaging 4.9 yards per carry on 15 carries. Anthony Elzy
(5-10, 205, So.) ran for 74 yards on just 11 carries against Tech last year.
However, he has just one carry on the season in 2008.

Overall, the UNC offense is much better in the passing game than running
game. The offensive line is more of a finesse group than a power blocking unit,
so their strength is in the passing game. The offensive backfield certainly
isn’t the strength of the offense either, so they aren’t likely to rack up the
rushing yards on the Hokies, unless Foster breaks one on a reverse.

However, UNC certainly has the chance to pass for a lot of yardage on the
Hokies. I think Tech corners Stephan Virgil and Macho Harris are the best
cornerback combination in the ACC, and I think UNC has the best group of
starting wideouts in the conference. That should be a fun matchup to watch.

However, Kam Chancellor and Davon Morgan are off to tough starts in the
secondary. Chancellor is starting to come around, but Morgan is still
struggling. He has been caught out of position in the passing game against ECU
and Furman, and isn’t tackling particularly well. I see UNC going right after
him, and they’ll have some success. If he misses a tackle on Brandon Tate, then
go ahead and dial up six on the scoreboard.

It will be important for the Tech defensive line to get penetration and
collapse the pocket. When Yates hasn’t felt comfortable, he’s been prone to make
mistakes in the past. It is important to keep the UNC passing game out of
rhythm.

The UNC Defense

North Carolina has a young but talented defense. The Tar Heels start four
sophomores and one freshman on the defensive side of the ball, and have just
three seniors in the entire two-deep. As a result, they are only 82nd nationally
in total defense this year, allowing 387 yards per game, despite playing a 1-AA
team and a Rutgers team which is just 61st in total offense.

The defensive line is a talented group, but they are still probably a year
away from being a consistently top-notch group. They have a tendency to play a
bit soft against the run.

Defensive tackle Marvin Austin (6-3, 300, So.) is the big name of this group.
He was a 5-star recruit who played quite a bit as a true freshman last season.
He should have a good individual battle with Sergio Render. He’s joined on the
inside by talented players such as Cam Thomas (6-4, 330, Jr.), Aleric Mullins
(6-3, 300, Jr.) and former VT recruiting target Tydreke Powell (6-3, 300,
r-Fr.).

That
interior line is still developing. They’ll make some plays, but the Virginia
Tech interior offensive line should be able to play well against them after
blocking well against a better group of defensive tackles last week.

Defensive end E.J. Wilson (6-2, 280, Jr.) is UNC’s most consistent defensive
lineman. He leads the team with three tackles for loss on the season. The other
starting defensive end is true freshman Robert Quinn (6-5, 260, Fr.). Backup
defensive ends include Vince Jacobs (6-7, 235, So.), Greg Elleby (6-5, 290,
So.), Darrius Massenberg (6-3, 280, So.), Quinton Coples (6-6, 245, Fr.) and
Michael McAdoo (6-7, 245, Fr.).

The Tar Heels are playing three true freshmen at defensive end this season,
and one of them is starting. They are also playing two sophomores. Along with
the youth at defensive tackle, this makes for a very young defensive line. They
will look good at times, but they can also be run on. They are still a bit soft
as a group.

Last year, Virginia Tech was able to block UNC’s defensive line, even with
Richard Graham playing left guard and Brandon Holland playing right guard for
the first quarter (Render was suspended). The Hokies used a lot of draws to the
tailback out of the shotgun formation with Taylor at quarterback. Branden Ore
enjoyed his only good game of the month of September, rushing for 93 yards on 19
carries.

UNC is young and talented at linebacker as well. Weakside linebacker Quan
Sturdivant (6-2, 235, So.) is leading the team with 18 tackles. He also has an
interception. Middle linebacker Mark Paschal (6-0, 230, Sr.) is the most
experienced linebacker on the team. He has 16 stops through the first two games.
Strongside backer Bruce Carter (6-3, 230, So.) is a talented player who started
seven games last season.

The Tar Heels start three sophomores and a true freshman in their front
seven. There is talent there, but they don’t play consistently at this point.
UNC has just one sack on the season, and they are just 69th nationally in
tackles for loss. They aren’t getting much penetration from that front seven.

Later on, we’ll document Virginia Tech’s lack of passing success on UNC. For
now let’s see how well the Hokies have run on the Tar Heels.


Virginia Tech Running Game vs.
UNC

Year

Attempts

Yards

YPC

2004

51

270

5.3

2005

53

277

5.2

2006

30

117

3.9

2007

36

165

4.6

Totals

170

829

4.9

In 2004, Mike Imoh set the Virginia Tech record with 243 rushing yards in a
single game. In 2005, Cedric Humes and Branden Ore both went over 100 yards
against the Tar Heels. Ore had over 100 yards again in 2006, and added 93 in
2007. Based on history, and how young the UNC front seven is, the Hokies should
be able to have some success on the ground with Darren Evans.

Cornerback is probably the weak spot on UNC’s defense. Three of their top
four players are sophomores, and one of them is a converted running back. Jordan
Hemby (5-10, 185, Jr.) and Charles Brown (5-10, 200, So.) will split time at one
corner position. Brown led the team in tackles against Rutgers with 10, though
that can’t be particularly good for a corner.

The other starting corner is Kendrick Burney (5-9, 185, So.). He started
every game as a r-freshman last season. He struggled quite a bit at times, but
the experience was good for him. Johnny White (5-11, 205, So.) started eight
games at tailback for the Tar Heels last year, leading the team in rushing in
the process. He is Burney’s primary backup.

UNC is giving up 241 yards per game through the air, which is 88th in the
nation, but the Hokies don’t have the receivers to take advantage of this. Their
best bet is to hit a big play or two, but a consistent passing game isn’t
likely. In fact, Tech has never been very good at throwing the football when
playing UNC.


Passing Game vs. UNC

Year

Quarterback

Comp.-Att.

Yards

TD-INT

2004

Bryan Randall

7-of-18

100

0-0

2005

Marcus Vick

8-of-15

61

1-1

2006

Sean Glennon

10-of-17

66

0-0

2007

Tyrod Taylor

10-of-19

72

0-1

Totals

35-of-69

299

1-2

Those numbers include starting quarterbacks only. Ike Whitaker’s touchdown pass
to Greg Boone in mop-up duty in 2006 is not included.

UNC’s safeties are very good. Trimane Goddard (5-11, 200, Sr.), the starter
at strong safety, has seemingly been around forever, and he brings a steady
influence to an otherwise young defense.

The starting free safety is Deunta Williams (6-2, 205, So.). He was the ACC
Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2007, starting every game and making 59 tackles.
He also led the team with three interceptions, including one on a tipped pass
against Virginia Tech.

Williams made a special announcement to the media before the season began:
“We’re going to win the ACC,” he said.

Saturday he’ll be facing the defending ACC Champions in a huge game, and
he’ll have a chance to back up that statement.

Special Teams

We’ve already covered Brandon Tate’s exploits. He is a terrific kick and punt
returner. The Hokies will have to be disciplined in their lanes, and they’ll
have to get good play from their gunners when punting the ball. The Hokies are
fourth nationally in kickoff return yardage defense. Tech is allowing 11 yards
per return on punts, however that includes East Carolina’s block that was
returned for a touchdown. Overall, the Hokies have been very good in their kick
coverage.

The Tar Heels have used Jay Wooten (6-3, 185, r-Fr.) and Casey Barth (5-11,
170, Fr.) at kicker. They appear to have settled on Wooten as of now. He is
3-of-3 on the season, with a long of 43. Barth has missed his only attempt.

UNC allows just 17.83 yards per return on kickoffs, which ranks 26th
nationally. However, they did allow a 70 yard punt return for a touchdown to
McNeese State. Thanks in part to that return, UNC is just 99th nationally in net
punting behind punter Terrence Brown (6-3, 190, Sr.).

Conclusion

This is a huge football game. If Virginia Tech can pull out a victory,
they’ll be 2-0 in the ACC, with the head-to-head tiebreaker against two Coastal
Division teams. That’s like a two game lead in the standings, and they have
almost sure wins against two other Coastal teams, UVA and Duke, coming up later
in the season. In fact, the Hokies don’t play another ACC game until they
travel to Boston College on October 18. The Hokies could be, and arguably should
be, a much improved football team by then.

I think 6-2 will be good enough to win the Coastal this year, depending on
the tiebreakers I assume above. So if the Hokies beat UNC, they’ll need to get
four more ACC wins against the following teams: at BC, at FSU, Maryland, at
Miami, Duke, Virginia. The three home games look good for victories, which means
Tech would need to just win one of the three road games to finish 6-2. I like
those odds.

However, a loss to UNC would mean not only losing the head-to-head
tiebreaker, but it would mean Tech would have to win five of their last six ACC
games to reach that 6-2 mark, including two of those three tough road games. And
if UNC manages to finish 6-2 (possible, considering their
schedule
), Tech would have to win out against ACC competition!

So, will the Hokies win? First, let’s go over some miscellaneous stats. UNC
averages just four penalties per game, and 37.5 penalty yards per game. The
yardage ranks 26th nationally. They are also sixth nationally in turnover
margin, with a +2 average. It doesn’t seem like they are going to give the
Hokies anything. Tech is going to have to earn it.

When the Hokies get in the red zone, they have to make it count. UNC has
allowed opponents to score 100% of the times they reach the red zone (4
touchdowns, 2 field goals). Tech can’t get inside the 20 and come up empty.

I
believe Virginia Tech will be able to move the football on the ground against
UNC, and they might even be able to hit a couple of big plays in the passing
game. UNC’s linebackers are very athletic, a lot more athletic than Georgia
Tech’s, so Tyrod Taylor probably won’t have quite as much room as he did last
week. Still, I’m looking for a solid day on the ground from the Hokies.

UNC has a lot of young players on defense, and I believe the Hokies have the
experience and talent in their starting offensive line to block them. However,
it’s not the Tech offense that worries me in this game (though it probably
should). It’s the Tech defense.

I have this vision of Hakeem Nicks and Brandon Tate hitting big plays down
the field in the passing game. I see Davon Morgan being in the wrong place a
couple of times, and UNC taking advantage. I also see a missed tackle or two
that can lead to big yardage. I see UNC using the deep and intermediate middle
of the field regularly, attacking the VT safeties and linebackers. Above all, I
see T.J. Yates having time to sit in the pocket and pick out his receivers.
That’s tough to stop, no matter how talented your cornerbacks are.

Again, I’m expecting a dogfight, and it could come down to turnovers yet
again. Kam Chancellor and Davon Morgan are very talented players. However,
Chancellor is still adjusting to free safety, and Morgan is in his first year as
a starter. They’ll get it down, the question is when. It could be this week, it
could be next week, it could be November. We simply don’t know at this point. I
believe their performance in this game could decide whether the Hokies come out
of Chapel Hill with a victory.

Chris’ Prediction: North Carolina 27, Virginia Tech 20

Will Stewart’s Take: It’s not hard to figure out that the Virginia Tech
keys are to run the football and slow down the UNC passing game.

It’s also not hard to figure out that UNC is going to load up to stop the
Hokie rushing game, so this is going to be a good old fashioned smash-mouth
confrontation when the Hokies are on offense. At least, the part where Darren
Evans runs the football will be smash-mouth. The part where Tyrod Taylor runs it
is going to be a spread-em-out-and-run-past-em contest.

In the passing game, the Hokies were extremely conservative in Chapel Hill in
2006, with a young Sean Glennon running the offense. I look for more of the same
here, with the occasional shot downfield, something the Hokie coaches have been
saying needs to be added in to the offense. But overall, the Tech passing game
doesn’t promise to be much of a factor here.

Stopping UNC’s passing game should make you sweat, because the Hokies have
more than one issue here. Tech doesn’t rush the passer well (84th in the nation
in sacks), and as Chris noted above, Davon Morgan and Kam Chancellor are
struggling with assignments and tackling. Tech’s corners are solid, but little
else about Tech’s pass defense is.

The Hokies are ranked 89th in the nation in pass efficiency defense, and the
Tar Heels are ranked #14 in the nation in pass efficiency. When you talk about
the UNC passing game against the VT pass defense, you’re talking about a UNC
strength facing a VT weakness. Sounds like big-play city (for the wrong team) to
me.

VT can counter with the #35 rushing attack in the country against UNC’s
75th-ranked rush defense, and the side benefit is that a successful Hokie
rushing attack will help slow down the UNC offense by keeping them off the
field.

Look for Frank Beamer to go that route, seeking to establish the run, keep
things under control, and limit mistakes. That’s right up his alley, and it’s
the direction he’s pushing this team in, anyway. We get to find out Saturday how
close the Hokies are to reaching Frank’s goal of a run-oriented, mistake-free
team.

I’ve got a bad feeling about this game, and a loss, even a big one, would not
surprise me. But as I blogged
back in July
, UNC has to show me first before I’ll buy the hype, and I have
to stand by that statement.

Will’s Prediction: VT 17, UNC 16

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