2009 Football Game Preview: #13 Virginia Tech vs. North Carolina

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  • Date: Thursday, October 29th, 2009
  • Time: 7:30
  • TV: ESPN

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Virginia Tech’s chances of winning the ACC Coastal Division aren’t looking so
hot right now. They have to depend on Georgia Tech losing, and take care of
their own business at the same time. Their own business begins on Thursday night
when North Carolina comes to town.

Carolina was expected to compete for the Coastal Division title this year,
but a bad offense has thrown their season off course. The Tar Heels are 4-3
overall, but winless in ACC play with losses to Georgia Tech, Virginia and
Florida State. Two of their losses have been at home.

Staring across the field at Frank Beamer will be a familiar face. Butch Davis
is in his third season as UNC’s head coach, and though he’s shown the ability to
recruit, his talented athletes haven’t produced as many wins on the field as
expected. That’s not surprising if you’re a Virginia Tech fan. The Butch Davis
era at Miami was filled with examples of a Tech team knocking off a Hurricane
team laden with future NFL players.

Davis hasn’t had much success against Beamer over the years.


Frank Beamer vs. Butch Davis

Year

Score

Result

1995

13-7

W

1996

21-7

W

1997

27-25

W

1998

27-20

W

1999

43-10

W

2000

41-21

L

2007

17-10

W

2008

20-17

W

But the past is the past. The only thing that matters in this year’s game is the
current players and coaches. Time for a closer look at North Carolina.

The UNC Offense

The North Carolina offense has been the weakness of the team this year. The
Tar Heels had to replace three NFL receivers, and the current group of wideouts
is very young. That, as well as issues along the offensive line, is holding the
offense back.


The UNC Offense

Category

Stat

NCAA Rank

Rushing

128.86 ypg

86

Passing

160.57 ypg

107

Total

289.43 ypg

114

Scoring

23.14 ppg

90

Pass Efficiency

109.03

104

Sacks Allowed

2.43 per game

83

Average

97.33

Only one BCS conference team has an offense ranked lower than 114th in total
offense. That’s UVA, who is ranked 115th. This UNC offense hasn’t been able to
get much accomplished against anybody. Here’s a look at their game by game
stats.


UNC Offense, Game by Game

Opponent

Total Yards

The Citadel

375

UConn

268

East Carolina

433

Georgia Tech

154

Virginia

174

Georgia Southern

289

Florida state

333

Average

289.43

The Tar Heels have played two 1-AA opponents, and they’ve yet to play a
top-notch defense. They’ve also played just two road games, at UConn and at
Georgia Tech. Neither of those places can compare to what Lane Stadium will be
like on Thursday night.

The UNC offense is led by quarterback T.J. Yates (6-3, 220, Jr.). Yates is a
quality player who has been starting since his freshman season. He has been
impressive in the past, but with inexperienced receivers this year he has been
struggling. In 2009, Yates is 108-of-183 (59%) for 1,028 yards, with seven
touchdowns and eight interceptions.

Like most quarterbacks in his position, Yates doesn’t have complete
confidence in his young wideouts. Virginia Tech fans saw this first hand last
year when all of the Hokie receivers were freshmen. Yates can be hesitant on his
throws as a result. Tech needs to get in the backfield and force him to make
quick decisions. That will likely lead to either interceptions or sacks.

UNC has talent at wideout, but most of it is young. Greg Little (6-3, 210,
Jr.) is the most experienced player of the group, and he has spent much of his
career at tailback. Little leads the team with 33 catches for 290 yards on the
season. He’s not a big play threat downfield, averaging just 8.8 yards per
reception, but he is the most consistent wide receiver on the team.

Erik Highsmith (6-3, 175, Fr.) is a talented true freshman who starts
opposite Little. Highsmith has 19 catches for 295 yards and two touchdowns on
the season. He is the most consistent big play threat for the Tar Heels. He’s
joined by fellow freshmen Jheranie Boyd (6-2, 185, Fr.) and Joshua Adams (6-4,
200, Fr.) in the rotation. Boyd is a talented player and a former Virginia Tech
recruiting target. Adams has missed time this season due to injury, but he
should be back for this game.

Dwight Jones (6-4, 220, So.) rounds out the playing rotation at wide
receiver. Like Adams, he has also been banged up this year and has played in
just three games.

Perhaps the best overall receiver on the team is tight end Zack Pianalto
(6-4, 255, Jr.). Like Dwight Jones and Joshua Adams, Pianalto has played in just
three games due to injury. In those three games, he had eight catches for 112
yards and a touchdowns. The Tar Heels should be as healthy on offense as they’ve
been all season for this game.

UNC does have good players in the backfield to rely on. Shaun Draughn (6-0,
205, Jr.) is the leading rusher. He has 111 carries for 481 yards and one
touchdown on the season. Draughn is a good athlete who used to play safety for
the Tar Heels. He’s a very capable running back, but his production is limited
thanks to the lack of a passing game to help him out.

The goal line specialist is former Virginia Tech recruiting target Ryan
Houston (6-2, 245, Jr.). Houston is a big back who has seven rushing touchdowns
on the year, and he’s averaging 4.2 yards per carry. He’s a decent back, but he
doesn’t pose a major threat to the Virginia Tech defense.

The North Carolina offensive line has also been part of the problem this
year.


UNC Offensive Line

Pos.

Name

Ht.

Wt.

Year

LT

Kyle Jolly

6-6

310

Sr.

LG

Greg Elleby

6-5

295

Jr.

C

Cam Holland

6-2

300

So.

RG

Alan Pelc

6-6

325

Jr.

RT

Mike Ingersoll

6-5

300

Jr.

Kyle Jolly is UNC’s best and most experienced offensive lineman, so he is
playing left tackle this season. Jolly is a quality player, and he’ll matchup
with Virginia Tech defensive end Nekos Brown in this game.

Right tackle Mike Ingersoll will draw the difficult task of blocking Jason
Worilds. As a former tight end recruit, Ingersoll is a solid athlete, but
Worilds will be a tough task for him on Thursday night.

Overall, this UNC offensive line hasn’t performed well this year. They rank
83rd nationally in sacks allowed, and they struggle blocking in the running
game. 199 of Shaun Draughn’s 481 yards have come against 1-AA competition. In
five games against 1-A teams, Draughn has 77 carries for just 282 yards, an
average of 3.66 yards per carry.

This UNC offensive line hasn’t been good enough or physical enough to control
the line of scrimmage against the decent defenses they have faced. Combine that
with a passing game that can’t hit any plays downfield thanks to young
receivers, and the result is a bad offense. In fact, it sounds exactly like the
2008 Virginia Tech offense for much of the season.

Virginia Tech’s defense should play a very good game on Thursday night.
They’ll be at home for a night game against an offense that has been pretty bad
all season. The Tar Heels are getting healthier, but it probably won’t help them
too much in this one.

The UNC Defense

North Carolina has a very talented defense that has put up very good results
this season. The Tar Heels are loaded in the front seven, and they have some
playmakers in the defensive secondary as well.


The UNC Defense

Category

Stat

Rank

Rushing

102.57 ypg

23

Passing

163.71 ypg

12

Total

266.29 ypg

7

Scoring

16.43 ppg

17

Pass Efficiency

107.47

24

TFL

9 per game

2

Sacks

2.43 per game

37

Average

17.43

Those stats are about as good as it gets, especially when you consider that the
Tar Heels have an offense that isn’t particularly good at controlling the
football.

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UNC’s big, tough defensive line sets the tone. This is the deepest, most
talented defensive line in the ACC. They will rotate four players at defensive
tackle, and four more at defensive end.

It all starts up front with defensive end Robert Quinn (6-5, 270, So.). Quinn
already has 11 tackles for loss and seven sacks on the season. With his size, he
is a prototypical NFL defensive end, and that’s exactly where he is going to
play one day. Quinn has plenty of help from other talented defensive ends,
including Quinton Coples (6-6, 275, So.). Coples is the second best pass rusher
on the team, with 4.5 tackles for loss and three sacks. Like Quinn, he’s got the
body to be an NFL defensive end.

E.J. Wilson (6-2, 280, Sr.) is a strong, aggressive defensive end who will
stand up blockers. He has 5.5 tackles for loss this season. Michael McAdoo (6-7,
245, So.) is the fourth defensive end, and six tackles for loss and a sack this
year.

The first thing you’ll notice about the UNC defensive ends is their size.
These guys are bigger than Virginia Tech’s defensive ends, and they also run
better than Tech’s defensive ends. Jason Worilds is the only Tech defensive
lineman who rivals the UNC ends in terms mobility. This is a very
talented group.

The defensive tackles have plenty of talent of their own. Former high school
All-American Marvin Austin (6-3, 305, Jr.) anchors the middle of the line, along
with Cam Thomas (6-4, 325, Sr.). Aleric Mullins (6-3, 305, Sr.) and Tydreke
Powell (6-3, 300, So.) split time with Austin and Thomas. The defensive tackles
don’t make as many plays as the defensive ends, but they still plug up the
middle of the defense very effectively.

The talent of the UNC defensive line frees up three talented Tar Heel
linebackers to make plays. Middle linebacker Quan Sturdivant (6-2, 235, Jr.)
leads the team with 48 tackles, and he also has 8.5 tackles for loss. He is
perhaps the most underrated linebacker in the ACC.

His fellow linebackers, Zach Brown (6-2, 225, So.) and Bruce Carter (6-3,
230, Jr.) are also underrated. Carter in particular is a very good athlete who
is capable of making big plays for the Tar Heel defense. This group is fast, and
they can run from sideline to sideline.

Overall this front seven is very talented, rivaling that of Alabama and
Nebraska for the best front seven the Hokies have faced.

UNC is much more susceptible in the secondary, though they are still solid.
Their best player is ball-hawking free safety Deunta Williams (6-2, 210, Jr.).
Williams has been a standout player since he was starting as a freshman in 2007.
He has two interceptions on the season, and he has also broken up six other
passes. Williams has eight career interceptions, and he’s about as good as it
gets at free safety in the ACC.

Da’Norris Searcy (6-0, 210, Jr.) is in his first year starting at strong
safety for the Tar Heels. Searcy is a big safety who is at his best coming up in
run support. He hasn’t been a playmaking type as of yet, but he’s another
quality defender for UNC.

The cornerbacks are also solid. Kendric Burney (5-9, 190, Jr.) is a very
active player. He’s not afraid to come up to the line of scrimmage and get his
uniform dirty in the running game. Both his stature and his style of play are
similar to former Virginia Tech All-American Brandon Flowers. Burney isn’t as
good as Flowers, but he’s the same type of player.

The other cornerback is Charles Brown (5-10, 205, Jr.). Brown has two
interceptions, four passes defended and two fumble recoveries on the season. He
combines with Burney to form a solid duo at cornerback, though this position is
probably the weakest spot on a very strong Carolina defense. However, it’s a
relative weakness. Burney and Brown are quality ACC cornerbacks.

Overall, I believe this is the second most talented defense Virginia Tech has
faced this season, behind only Alabama. The Tar Heels have a big, fast defensive
line that will give the Tech offensive line fits. UNC will bring plenty of
pressure on the Hokies, and Virginia Tech has to know how to respond in the
passing game.

Special Teams

UNC has plenty of athletes to put on the field, so they are solid on special
teams. Da’Norris Searcy is a very good punt returner. He has 18 returns for 257
yards, an average of 14.3 yards per return. He has one return for a touchdown on
the season. The Hokies have been very good with their punt coverage this year,
and they need to keep that up on Thursday night.

Kickoff returns aren’t so great for the Tar Heels. Former starting tailback
Johnny White (5-10, 205, Jr.) averages just 20.9 yards per return, and Greg
Little is even worse at 18.9 yards per return. Neither player has ever been a
big play threat in his career, so UNC would probably be better served by getting
some more speed on their return team.

Casey Barth (5-11, 180, So.) is the UNC placekicker. He is 7-of-10 on his
field goal attempts this year. Barth has been perfect from inside 30 yards, but
he’s only 3-of-6 from beyond 30 yards. He has a long of 40 on the year.

Grant Schallock (6-7, 225, Jr.) is second in the ACC in punting behind
Virginia Tech’s Brent Bowden, averaging 42.1 yards per punt. Schallock has
plenty of help from his teammates, as opponents average just 3.6 yards per
return against the Tar Heels.

Butch Davis has done an excellent job recruiting at UNC, so he has plenty of
size and speed to put on his special teams. They should be able to match the
Hokies blow for blow in this part of the game on Thursday night.

Conclusion

The ineptitude of the North Carolina offense will be the difference in this
game. The Tar Heels are averaging less than 300 yards per game, and they’ve
struggled mightily against anyone with a decent defense this year. I know the
Hokies have had their struggles on the road defensively, but they have still
been dominant at home. Here are the numbers:


Virginia Tech Defense, Road vs. Home

Where

Total Def.

Rush Def.

Pass Def.

Home

241.75 ypg

109.25 ypg

132.5 ypg

Away

417.33 ypg

205 ypg

213.33 ypg

If you’re a TSL Pass subscriber, you saw those numbers in an article last
Friday. They are worth breaking out again, because they illustrate how different
the Tech defense has been this year. They don’t play well on the road, but they
play very well at home.

Unfortunately for T.J. Yates and his young wide receivers, they are playing
the Hokies in Blacksburg. I don’t see this one going well for Yates. Bud Foster
will confuse those young receivers with many different coverages. Yates and
those receivers won’t be on the same page, he won’t trust them, and that will
lead to hesitation. I could see the Tech defense grabbing a couple of
interceptions and recording four or five sacks in this game.

On the other side, the most appealing matchup of this game is the UNC defense
vs. the Virginia Tech offense. This UNC defense is loaded, and the Hokie offense
is going to have to play well to consistently move the ball on them. I’m not
quite sure what to expect here. I think Tech will make some plays, but I think
that Tar Heel front seven will show up and make life difficult for the Hokie
offensive line.

In the end, Carolina just won’t be able to score on the Tech defense. The
Tech offense won’t be perfect, but Tyrod Taylor will have a good game and the
Hokies will have a comfortable win.

Chris’ Prediction: Virginia Tech 20, North Carolina 3

Will Stewart’s Take: Hard to peg this one. To begin with, UNC’s offense
is awful, simply awful, ranked 114th in the nation in total offense. Even in
their dismal 2006-2008 stretch, the Hokie offense never ranked that low … but
to be fair, the season isn’t over yet, so the final UNC numbers aren’t set yet.

The Heels are 85th in rushing, 107th in passing, and 90th in scoring, and
they’re going up against a Hokie team that plays darn good defense at home,
giving up just 241.8 yards and 11.5 points per game. Those averages would rank
5th and 6th in the nation, respectively, if they were Tech’s season averages.

North Carolina might not get across midfield. Easy Tech win, right?

Maybe not. UNC is positively VT-like — the VT of recent vintage, not this
season — in that they have an atrocious offense yet still field a top ten
defense. In addition to the awful offensive numbers above, the Heels rank 100th
in the nation in time of possession, yet their defense is ranked 7th in the
nation in total defense. That is no mean feat; that is good playing and good
coaching on defense.

UNC hasn’t faced a murderer’s row of offensive teams. Their schedule includes
FCS opponents The Citadel and Georgia Southern. Their FBS list includes Virginia
(115th in total offense), ECU (92nd), and UConn (53rd). The two good offensive
teams they have faced, Georgia Tech and Florida State, have lit them up for 406
yards and 438 yards, respectively.

So is the UNC defense the product of a soft schedule, or are they really that
good? I don’t want to find out that they’re really that good, do you? I do know
that they’ve got some major league size and speed in their front seven. They
pass the eye test, and their stats look good, too. The Tech offensive line
better be ready to play.

So the path to victory is clear. Unless UNC suddenly develops an offense, the
Hokies need simply to score three or four times and not turn the ball over, and
everything should be okay. In that sense, the onus is on the Hokie offense to
put some points on the board and take care of the football.

The other issue here is how “focused” the Tech team is on UNC.
Hokie fans certainly aren’t focused. The talk on message boards, blogs, and
articles is the Georgia Tech blocking story, and I even spent about two hours
this morning addressing it.

But players and coaches don’t sit around and rehash things on message boards
and blogs. They are creatures of routine, and they have been going through their
normal game week routine, albeit time-shifted because of the Thursday night
kickoff. Their normal routine doesn’t include sitting around stewing about last
week’s game. It includes film study and game-planning for the upcoming opponent,
which is UNC. This week for Virginia Tech players and coaches has had a lot more
powder blue in it than a typical Hokie fan’s week.

Does that mean the team will bring the all-important FOCUSED mindset Thursday
night? Who knows? These are college kids. They remind us of that almost every
week.

In the end, I’ve got to go with the Hokie team that I have seen in Lane
Stadium four times so far this season. With the exception of 58 minutes of the
Nebraska game, that has been a darn good team, one that should be able to
dispatch of the Heels. That UNC defense still worries me, though.

Will’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 20, North Carolina 6

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