2005 Game Preview: #5 Virginia Tech vs. North Carolina

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Saturday, November 26th, 2005, 7:45

TV: ESPN

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Game time forecast, as of 3:30 pm Tuesday: Partly Cloudy, 29 degrees, chance of
precipitation 0%, cloud cover 40%, wind from the ENE at 3 miles per hour.


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Preview: #5 Virginia Tech (9-1, 6-1 ACC) vs. North Carolina (5-5, 4-3)


by Chris Coleman

Note from TSL: Be in the stadium and be seated at 7:30 Saturday
night! The game doesn’t start until 7:45, but it’s Senior Day, and the
Hokies will be sending off the following seniors in a ceremony that starts at 7:30: James Anderson, Reggie Butler,
John Candelas, Chris Clifton, Rashad Ferebee, Justin Hamilton, Cedric Humes,
Mike Imoh, Greg Kezmarsky, Jeff King, Jonathan Lewis, Jimmy Martin, Will
Montgomery, Jason Murphy, Tim Sandidge, Darryl Tapp, Jordan Trott, Blake Warren,
and Jimmy Williams.

One team stands between fifth-ranked Virginia Tech and the ACC Championship
Game in Jacksonville. That team is North Carolina, and the Tar Heels have a lot
to play for in their own right. UNC is 5-5 on the year, and if they defeat the
Hokies they will get a bowl invitation. If they lose, they will stay home for
the Holidays. Virginia Tech is a heavy favorite going into the game and they
hold many matchup advantages over the Tar Heels.

Carolina has been through an up and down season that featured a very tough
out-of-conference schedule. The Heels had to play Wisconsin, Utah and
Louisville, not to mention regular ACC opponents such as Miami, Boston College
and NC State. Considering the fact that their defense had been so poor last
season and they lost a lot of playmakers on offense, it�s rather surprising
that UNC is 5-5 at this point.

The Tar Heels will show up in Blacksburg ready to play. They have absolutely
nothing to lose and everything to gain. If they lose, they won�t go to a bowl
game. Big deal. They weren�t supposed to. But if they win, they get to go
bowling and a victory on the road at Virginia Tech would be John Bunting�s
signature win during his tenure. Expect UNC to throw the kitchen sink at the
Hokies on both sides of the ball.

The UNC Offense

To say that offensive coordinator Gary Tranquil�s offense has been below
average would be putting it kindly. The post-Darian Durant era has not been good
to the UNC offense. They rank near the bottom of the ACC and the nation in many
offensive categories. They are not an efficient team on the ground or through
the air, and they don�t score a lot of points.

UNC Offensive Statistics
Category
Stat

ACC Rank

Points Per Game
19.5 ppg 11

Rushing Offense
108 ypg 12

Passing Offense
219.7 ypg 6

Total Offense
327.7 ypg 11

Pass Efficiency
114.4 9

First Downs
187 10

Sacks Allowed
30 10

To say that the matchup of the UNC offense against the Virginia Tech defense
favors the Hokies in Lane Stadium is an understatement. The Hokies should be
able to shut down the Carolina running game and force quarterback Matt Baker to
beat them through the air, which he should not be able to do, as his pass
efficiency rating suggests.

Baker is a senior who spent three seasons behind record-setting Darian
Durant. Baker had very little experience heading into this season. He has done a
decent job as Durant�s replacement, but ultimately he has not been able to
keep the chains moving for the Carolina offense. He has thrown for 2,185 yards
on the season, but his completion percentage isn�t particularly good (54.1%)
and he has thrown ten interceptions to just nine touchdown. His 117.5 efficiency
rating ranks only eighth in the ACC.

North Carolina will not be able to rely on Baker to provide a lot of
offensive production against the great Virginia Tech defense in Lane Stadium.
They are going to have to be balanced, which means running the football
successfully. Unfortunately for the Heels, they haven�t been very good in that
category this season.

The Carolina running game ranks dead last in the ACC, even behind woeful
Duke. They have gotten a boost since Ronnie McGill’s return from an injury, but
even a talented back like McGill is only averaging 4.2 yards per carry.
Barrington Edwards, a transfer from LSU, was supposed to provide a spark for the
UNC offense, but he has not been productive. Edwards is averaging just 3.5 yards
per carry.

The North Carolina offensive line has allowed too much penetration, which has
forced the offense into too many second-and-long and third-and-long situations.
McGill has lost 46 total yards in rushing attempts this season, while Edwards
has lost 58. Quickly compare that to the Virginia Tech tailbacks. Cedric Humes
has lost 14 yards on the season, Mike Imoh has lost 31 and Branden Ore has lost
just one yard.

As a team, North Carolina is averaging just 2.8 yards per rush. That attempt
is lowered somewhat because the offensive line has given up 30 sacks on the
season, a number that ranks tenth in the ACC.

Speaking of the offensive line, this is a pretty experienced group that UNC
will line up on Saturday night. The Heels will start four seniors, as they have
done all season. Three of those seniors are returning starters, which makes it
surprising that they have had such trouble running the ball this year and
protecting Matt Baker.

Carolina does have a solid group of wide receivers. They are all good and
experienced players. Jawarski Pollock is the all-time leading receiver at UNC,
surpassing Na Brown earlier in the season. Pollock has been hurt at times this
year and only has 26 receptions on the season. He had 71 catches back in 2003.
He had six receptions against the Hokies last season, but for only 40 yards.
Pollock is small (5-8, 170) and does not match up well with Tech�s big,
physical cornerbacks.

Jesse Holley is the other starting wide receiver for Carolina. He is a big
(6-3, 203), athletic wide receiver who won the National Championship as a member
of Roy Williams� UNC basketball team last season. Holley leads the team in
receiving with 43 catches for 621 yards and one touchdown. UNC will also use
Mike Mason, who has 20 catches on the year. Wallace Wright broke his ankle
against Duke and will miss the rest of the season. He had 12 catches on the year
and was a big part of UNC�s special teams.

In short, don�t expect the North Carolina offense to do much against one of
the best defenses in Virginia Tech history. The Hokie defense will dominate the
line of scrimmage and the Heels will play most of the game on their side of the
field.

The UNC Defense

North Carolina�s defense was one of the laughing stocks of the ACC last
season. They couldn�t stop the run, they couldn�t stop the pass and they
couldn�t keep the opposing team out of the end zone. Mike Imoh broke the
Virginia Tech single game rushing record against UNC last season with 243 yards
on the ground. The Heel defense is much improved in 2005, and they have been the
main reason that Carolina has won five games.

UNC has been solid against the run, allowing 124.3 yards per game, which
ranks 29th in the nation. The Tar Heels have an above average overall defense,
allowing 350.3 yards per game, good for 41st in the country. They struggle
somewhat in defending the pass, ranking 11th in the ACC and 74th nationally,
giving up 226 yards per game.

The Tar Heels have some good players in their front seven. They are led by
linebackers Tommy Richardson and Larry Edwards. They are the top two tacklers on
the team. Richardson, who plays on the weak side, has 82 tackles, 5.5 tackles
for loss, a sack and three fumble recoveries. Edwards is the strong side
linebacker, and he has 75 tackles, eight tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks.

Tommy Davis is UNC�s best defensive end. He is big (6-4, 270) and plays
behind the line of scrimmage. Davis has eight tackles for loss on the season, as
well as six sacks. Davis sprained his knee against Duke last week but will play
on Saturday. Chase Page is a playmaker at defensive tackle for the Heels. He is
a bit undersized at 280, but he is tough to block. He has 6.5 tackles for loss
and six sacks on the season.

The Tar Heels have been a bit thin in recent weeks at defensive end. Starter
Brian Rackley and key backup Hilee Taylor have been banged up recently, but both
could play against the Hokies on Saturday night. Rackley has three tackles for
loss and two sacks on the season, while Taylor has been credited with one sack.

The UNC secondary is undersized, and they have been the weak link of the
Carolina defense this season. Only one player stands as tall as 6-0, and no one
in the starting secondary weighs over 195. There are two starting sophomores in
the group, cornerback Bryan Bethea and strong safety Trimane Goddard.

These players have struggled in the passing game at times, especially against
Louisville, but they have been very effective run stoppers. Free safety Kareen
Taylor is third on the team in tackles with 57. He also has 3.5 tackles for
loss. The Tar Heels aren’t afraid to blitz Taylor, and he has recorded 2.5 sacks
on the season. Senior cornerback Cedric Holt is fourth on the team in tackles
with 56. He has six tackles for loss and a sack. Holt also has two
interceptions. Trimane Goddard leads the team in interceptions with three.

The North Carolina defense is much improved this season, and they will be
even better next year when they return seven starters. But they will spend most
of the game on the field against the Hokies because the UNC offense will not be
able to move the ball. They will eventually be worn down, and Marcus Vick will
hit some big plays in the passing game.

UNC Special Teams

For the second consecutive week the Hokies must deal with a team that ranks
very highly in kickoff returns. UNC is tenth nationally, averaging 25.32 yards
per return. Tech covered kickoffs very well against UVA and will be helped this
week by the absence of Wallace Wright, who was averaging 27.5 yards per return,
including a touchdown.

The bad news for the Hokies is that Brandon Tate will play, and he is
averaging 26.3 yards per return, with a touchdown. Tate also returns punts for
the Tar Heels, averaging nine yards per return. Mike Mason also has four returns
on the year and has averaged 25.5 yards per return.

After an outstanding season in 2004, placekicker Conner Barth has struggled
in 2005. Barth is just 10-19 on the season. He is 5-6 from inside 30 yards, but
just 5-13 from beyond 30 yards. Barth has not had a kick blocked this season.

David Wooldridge is having a good year punting the ball for the Tar Heels. He
is averaging 41.6 yards per punt and has pinned the opposition inside their 20
yard line 11 times. He has had one punt blocked this season.

Predictions

Despite all the predictions that the Hokies will defeat UNC on Saturday,
there will be a team in Lane Stadium that can beat Tech. Themselves. If the
Hokies protect the football and don�t have mental lapses on defense, they will
win. North Carolina does not have the horses offensively to manufacture enough
points on their own to beat Virginia Tech.

I don�t believe the Hokies will give UNC much of a chance in this game. The
Tech offense has put up around 500 yards in three of the last four games. They
had 497 at Maryland, 492 against a good Boston College defense and 503 against
UVA. Throw out the Miami performance�the Hokies are better than they looked in
that game.

Tech has too much going for them in this game to lose. They have an advantage
in talent, matchups and coaching. They have a tremendous goal in front of them�the
ACC Championship Game. Not to mention that it�s Senior Day in Lane Stadium.

I see a close game early, but the Tar Heel offense will not be able to move
the chains. The UNC defense will be on the field too long, and the Hokies will
wear them down.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 31, UNC 7

Will Stewart’s Take: After a shaky week leading up to the Virginia game,
I’m feeling good about the Hokies again, because the win over Virginia was just
what they needed to restore their confidence and get things going in the right
direction again. I thought this program might have lost its zip in the aftermath
of November 5th, but they responded well and proved everyone wrong, including
me.

Chris is right � mounting a challenge against Virginia Tech in Lane
Stadium, with so much at stake, is a tall order for North Carolina. The Tar
Heels are 23-point underdogs to the Hokies, a whopper of a line, but VT should
be able to make it stand up.

Unlike Chris, I don�t think this game will be close at any point, with the
Hokies posting a couple touchdowns in the early going and cruising to the win.
Though I’m predicting a very similar score, I don’t see the Tar Heels making it
into the end zone. None of this is meant to disrespect UNC, who has put together
a solid season despite losing so much talent and leadership. I just think that
the events of last weekend, including the victory over UVa and the loss by
Miami, has rejuvenated the Hokies into what they were in September and October.

It’s hard to believe that another regular season has come and gone, so enjoy
your last home game of the 2005 season in Lane Stadium, even though it IS going
to be COLD.

Will’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 34, UNC 6

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