2006 Football Game Preview: Virginia Tech at North Carolina

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Saturday, September 9th, 2006, Noon

TV: ESPN

Forecast (from WeatherUnderground.com):

Click the “Chapel Hill Weather” link to the right.
Game time forecast, as of 3:00 pm Wednesday: Partly cloudy with a 10 percent
chance of rain. Highs in the lower 80s.


Click here for TechSideline.com’s VT/UNC
roster card


Game Preview: #14 Virginia Tech at North Carolina


by Chris Coleman, TechSideline.com

After opening against a D-1AA opponent, it’s still difficult to gauge
exactly where the Hokies are right now. The 38-0 trouncing of Northeastern is in
the past, and this week Virginia Tech must go on the road to face an ACC
opponent — The North Carolina Tar Heels.

North Carolina’s season, as well as John Bunting’s hopes of remaining UNC’s
football coach for the foreseeable future, got off to a rocky start this past
weekend. The Rutgers Scarlet Knights — yes, the same Rutgers that the Hokies
used to crush regularly in the Big East — went into Chapel Hill and knocked off
the Tar Heels 21-16. Ouch. Not the way UNC wanted to start their season,
especially with a difficult ACC schedule coming up, as well as a game against
Notre Dame. This opening loss will be difficult for them to overcome.

Virginia Tech easily handled UNC in Blacksburg last season, beating the Tar
Heels 30-3. Tech outscored UNC 24-0 in the second half. The Hokies rushed for
277 yards, and both Cedric Humes and Branden Ore had over 100 yards rushing. In
2004, Tech rushed for 270 yards as a team. Mike Imoh put up 243 yards in that
game, which is a Virginia Tech single game rushing record.

This year the Hokies have a new quarterback, Sean Glennon, who will be making
his first career start on the road. How he performs on Saturday could not only
decide the game, but it will also be a good indicator of how he will perform the
entire season.

The UNC Offense

The UNC offense was supposed to struggle at times this season, but they put
up some impressive numbers against Rutgers. The Tar Heels had 406 yards of total
offense, while tailback Ronnie McGill averaged 6.7 yards per carry (14 carries
for 94 yards). QB Joe Dailey was efficient, completing 24 of 36 passes for 234
yards and a touchdown. The offensive line, which was supposed to be the weak
spot on UNC’s offense, performed very well; granted, they were blocking a very
average Rutgers defense.

Despite the nice line of stats, UNC was only able to muster 16 points against
Rutgers. This is partially due to three turnovers, including two interceptions
by Dailey. This could turn out to be a major problem for Dailey, and the Hokies
should look to take full advantage on Saturday.

Dailey is a transfer from Nebraska who was the starting quarterback for the
Cornhuskers in 2004. He completed just 49.4% of his passes that season, throwing
19 interceptions while tossing just 17 touchdown passes. Dailey appears to have
improved his accuracy, if we can judge by the Rutgers game. But he’s still
throwing a lot of interceptions, and that’s good for Tech.

Dailey didn’t go downfield very much against Rutgers. UNC brought in Frank
Cignetti as offensive coordinator in the offseason. Cignetti has brought the
West Coast offense to UNC from Fresno State, and the short passing game will be
emphasized in Chapel Hill this season.

But this strategy could play right into the hands of the Hokies, who will
give up short passing plays to concentrate on not giving up the deep ball. Tech
loves to make opponents try to drive the length of the field, and generally they
are not successful. The more passes Joe Dailey has to throw, the better the
chance of the Hokies picking off a pass.

Despite playing well last week, the UNC offensive line will have its work cut
out for it against the Hokies. The Tech defense is no Rutgers. The left side of
the UNC line is very experienced, with sixth-year senior Brian Chacos playing
left tackle, and Charlston Gray playing left guard. The right side of the
offensive line is where things get interesting for the Tar Heels.

Sophomore Calvin Darity starts at right guard, while sophomore Garrett
Reynolds starts at right tackle. Both players are very inexperienced, and they
don’t matchup well with the Tech front seven. I left the Tech game a little
early last week to watch as much of the Carolina game as I could, and I caught
part of the first half and the entire second half. On several occasion, Garrett
Reynolds really seemed to struggle against the outside speed rush of the
defensive end. He didn’t give up any sacks, but there was a lot of pressure on
several obvious passing situations where the defensive end could just pin his
ears back and go upfield.

The star of the UNC receiving corps is Jesse Holley, a big receiver at 6-3,
210. Holley caught just three passes for 25 yards against Rutgers, however. The
stars at wide receiver were sophomore backup Brooks Foster, who caught 11 passes
for 120 yards, and true freshman starter Hakeem Nicks, who had seven receptions
for 63 yards and a touchdown. Foster is listed at 6-3, 200, while Nicks is 6-1,
210, so the UNC receivers have some size to them.

At tight end, UNC starts Virginia native Jon Hamlett. Hamlett is a good
player, but he didn’t see any passes come his way against Rutgers. Look for
UNC to try and work him between Tech’s linebackers and safeties, where it
appeared the Hokies had some trouble defending against Northeastern.

Ronnie McGill is one of the ACC’s top tailbacks when he’s healthy. He
played very well against Rutgers last week, but he has never enjoyed much
success against the Hokies. He had 12 carries for just 34 yards last season.
Tech will need to get penetration against the UNC offensive line. McGill is a
bruising running back at 5-11, 220, and if he can get his shoulders squared
while running downhill, he can be a load.

After one week, it appears that UNC has a capable trio of wide receivers. One
matchup that concerns me is Brenden Hill matched up against the Tar Heel slot
receiver. Hill was trailing Northeastern receivers on two corner routes last
week, but the pass was incomplete each time. If I were Frank Cignetti, I would
key on Hill in the passing game.

The UNC Defense

To say that the UNC defense was beaten up front by the Rutgers offensive line
would be an understatement. Mauled, blown off the ball, or beaten to a pulp
would be better ways to put it. Time after time, Rutgers just handed the ball
off to tailback Ray Rice on simple running plays up the middle, and each time he
would head upfield for a big gain. On many of his runs, he never even made
contact with a defender until he was eight or 10 yards upfield.

Reading John Bunting’s comments after the game, it is pretty clear that the
UNC linebackers played poorly as a group against Rutgers. Bunting named Victor
Worsley as a linebacker who played well, but he is also hoping that Durell Mapp
can get healthy for the game. Mapp was a projected starter who battled injuries
for the entire month of August.

Larry Edwards is the most hyped UNC linebacker. He is a senior, and he
recorded seven tackles, two tackles for loss and a sack against Rutgers.
Sophomores Mark Paschal and Chase Rice were the other starting linebackers
against Rutgers, and if you listen to Bunting, they didn’t distinguish
themselves.

Not to be outdone, from my vantage point it didn’t appear that the UNC
defensive line played very well either. There was absolutely no penetration into
the backfield. UNC recorded four tackles for loss during the game, two of which
were sacks. The Tar Heel defensive linemen didn’t look very active, and on
many occasions were blown three or more yards off the ball, opening up huge gaps
for Ray Rice.

UNC starts two seniors (Brian Rackley and Shelton Bynum), and two juniors (Hilee
Taylor and Kyndraus Guy) on the defensive line, and those players have a lot of
experience. They have some good athletes up front, but if they haven’t
developed into a consistent run stopping unit at this point in their careers,
they probably never will. By the standards of other ACC defenses, they are a bit
soft.

That being said, they are facing an extremely inexperienced Virginia Tech
offensive line. If senior left tackle Brandon Frye (dislocated elbow,
questionable/doubtful) doesn’t play, the Hokies will get even more
inexperienced with sophomore Nick Marshman moving into the starting lineup. But
the real concern on the offensive line for the Hokies is true freshman right
guard Sergio Render.

Render was confused several times in the Northeastern game and just blocked
the wrong player. He is very strong, and he doesn’t get beat one on one very
often, but he is still learning the offense and at times he just misses his
assignment. UNC will probably try to confuse Render with blitzes and delayed
blitzes from the linebackers, and stunts from the defensive linemen.

The Tech offensive line is strong, and they are physical, and if they line up
shoulder to shoulder, they can probably wedge block themselves through the
middle of the UNC defense with pretty good effectiveness. The Hokies will
obviously try to establish the run against the Tar Heels. If Branden Ore goes
over 100 yards, Tech should definitely win.

For the last two seasons, the Hokies have played the Tar Heels with the 1st
Team All-ACC quarterback. However, Bryan Randall and Marcus Vick never did much
against UNC, combining to complete 15 of 33 passes for 161 yards, with one
touchdown and one interception. For whatever reason, Virginia Tech has struggled
with the passing game against UNC.

The Tar Heels feature an experienced secondary, with three senior starters
and a junior. However, they were hurt earlier in the preseason when safety
Trimane Goddard was lost for the season with a foot fracture. Senior D.J. Walker
takes his place in the starting lineup, but he has been a special teams player
in the past and is not used to getting a lot of snaps on defense, so Tech should
test him. Cornerbacks Jacoby Watkins and Quinton Person are experienced, and
safety Kareen Taylor may be the best player in the secondary.

With a new quarterback, and the history of Tech not throwing the ball well on
UNC, it stands to reason that Sean Glennon will struggle against the Tar Heels.
Perhaps not. Rutgers quarterback Mike Teel was very efficient last weekend,
completing 14 of 20 passes for 145 yards. Glennon has played limited snaps in
his career, but his stats are impressive. He has completed 23 of 29 passes
(79.3%) for 359 yards, with five touchdowns and one interception in his career.
Some of his incompletions in 2004 were drops, one of which would have been a
sure touchdown (Justin Harper against Florida A&M).

Tech will keep their passing attack simple, with short passes to the wide
receivers and tailbacks. However, they will mix in a deep ball or two to keep
UNC honest. Look for Glennon to be more efficient against UNC than his
predecessors, but his numbers likely won’t be too gaudy, as the Hokies will go
on the road with a conservative game plan.

Special Teams

In 2004, UNC blocked a Tech punt and returned it for a touchdown, and that
nearly cost the Hokies the game. Don’t expect that to happen this year. Frank
Beamer has stressed special teams in the offseason, and his players have
responded, blocking a punt and a field goal against Northeastern. They blocked a
UNC field goal last year, and they’ll be out for blood again on Saturday.

The Hokies boast perhaps the best kicking trio in college football in place
kicker Brandon Pace, Playboy All-American punter Nic Schmitt, and kickoff
specialist Jared Develli. Pace has a long range and very good accuracy, while
Schmitt is probably a future NFL punter. Develli had 29 touchbacks in 64 kickoff
attempts last season. All five of his kickoffs against Northeastern went for
touchbacks.

UNC punter David Wooldridge averaged just 31 yards per punt last week, with a
long of 34. For his career he has averaged 42.1 yards per punt and pinned the
opponent inside their 20 yard line 47 times. However, he has had three punts
blocked in his career, so that is something to keep an eye on.

Place kicker Conner Barth made 14 of 18 field goal attempts back in 2004, but
he struggled in 2005, connecting on just 11 of 21. He was the top kicker in the
nation coming out of high school. He connected on his one field goal attempt
against Rutgers, a 47 yarder to end the first half. It was a career long for
Barth. If he gets back to his 2004 form, he can be a major weapon for Carolina.

Conclusion

Establish the running game, protect the football, and let your defense win
the game. And maybe block a kick or two in the process. Stop me if you’ve
heard that before. It certainly applies to the game this Saturday. The Hokies
will be conservative with a quarterback making his first road start. They know
they’ve pounded UNC on the ground the past two seasons, and they need to make
Carolina prove that they can stop the run.

Carolina’s offense looked solid against Rutgers, but the Tech defense is a
whole different animal. Bud Foster and his unit should be able to control this
game.

A lot is being made of Danny Pearman, who coached Tech’s tight ends and
offensive tackles from 1998-2005, now being the defensive ends coach at UNC. Don’t
expect that to make too much of a difference. UNC already knows Tech is big,
strong and fast. They don’t need Pearman to tell them that.

There is a lot that we can analyze about this game, but the simple fact is
that Virginia Tech has better football players than UNC. The Tar Heels won’t
be able to beat the Hokies without help from the Hokies, in the form of
turnovers and mental errors.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 23, UNC 10

Will Stewart’s Take: What Chris said is true, so I won’t repeat it at
length: don’t turn the ball over, run it well, and get the advantage on special
teams. I’ll talk instead about one of the subplots in this game: the performance
of Sean Glennon.

A radio interviewer asked me in the preseason what Tech needed to accomplish
in Chapel Hill. Other than the obvious — win the game — I felt that the one
player who had the most riding on this game was Sean Glennon. I was assuming at
the time that all three Tech QBs were going to play against Northeastern, and
all three were going to do well, which would do nothing to settle the Glennon
vs. Whitaker issue.

There was no Glennon vs. Whitaker issue with the coaching staff, from what I
could tell, so if there was an issue that needed to be settled, it would be
amongst the fans and maybe even the players.

In the wake of a strong performance by Glennon in the Northeastern game,
there hasn’t been any discussion among the fans of whether Glennon or Whitaker
is best in the starting role. They seem solidly behind Glennon, or they at least
seem to have put the issue aside for now. As for the players, those of us on the
outside will never know, but David Clowney praised
Glennon
, saying, “Glennon did a heck of a job. Me, I’m very proud
of Sean.”

Glennon appears to be in a strong position with the coaches, fans, and fellow
players, but that can disappear in an instant, particularly with a poor
performance on the road, leading to a loss against a team the Hokies have
manhandled the last two years. It’s therefore important that he have a second
straight strong performance. With the offensive youth, things are going to be
tough enough, and uncertainty at the quarterback position is not something the
Hokies need. This is the second of many chances Glennon will have to step up,
and he needs to take advantage of it.

The Hokie defense will be fine. The offensive line is what it is, and it will
get better with time. One big unknown is how Sean Glennon will play on the road
against a halfway decent opponent, and we’ll find out Saturday.

Will’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 27, North Carolina 10

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