Football Game Preview: #16 Virginia Tech at North Carolina

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  • Date: Saturday, November 13, 2010
  • Time: 3:30pm
  • TV: ABC (Coverage map will be posted here)

For weather information and a roster card link, see the Info Center to the right.

One down, three to go. Virginia Tech started their critical four-game stretch
in high style last week, knocking off Georgia Tech 28-21 at home. Now they head
to Chapel Hill, where they’ll face perhaps their toughest challenge in November.
UNC still has a chance to win the Coastal Division, and you can bet the Hokies
will get the Heels’ best shot on Saturday.

Despite all the suspensions and negative attention at UNC, the Tar Heels have
responded by going 6-3, with a 3-2 mark in conference play. Here’s a list of UNC
players who have missed time, or all of the season, due to the NCAA
investigation.


List of UNC Players Involved in the Investigation

Player

Pos.

Status

Time Missed

Shaun Draughn

RB

Starter

1 game

Da’Norris Searcy

S

Starter

4 games

Deunta Williams

S

Starter

4 games

Linwan Euwell

DE

Starter

5 games

Ryan Houston

RB

Redshirting?

All

Kendric Burney

CB

Starter

7 games

Devon Ramsey

FB

Not Playing

All

Michael McAdoo

DE

Not Playing

All

Marvin Austin

DT

Ineligible

All

Robert Quinn

DE

Ineligible

All

Greg Little

WR

Ineligible

All

Jonathan Smith

DB

Ineligible

All

Brian Gupton

DB

Ineligible

All

Charles Brown

CB

Redshirting

All

Most of those guys are starters, or would have been starters, and many of them
have futures in the NFL. That’s not surprising though, otherwise agents wouldn’t
be paying for their trips and other such things.

Despite those losses, the Tar Heels have quality depth and they’ve been able
to put together a solid season. Most of that is due to the play of quarterback
T.J. Yates.

The North Carolina Offense

Though their stats are not overly impressive, the North Carolina offense is
capable of making big plays and putting up points.


The UNC Offense

Category

Stat

NCAA Rank

Rushing

124.22 ypg

93

Passing

258.44 ypg

33

Total

382.67 ypg

61

Scoring

26.67 ppg

65

Pass Eff.

153.07

18

Sacks

2.44 per game

85

Third Downs

38.2%

76

Despite those average numbers, this offense did drop 37 points at Florida State
last week, and they were one short incompletion away from scoring 31 points and
beating LSU in the opening week of the season.

The UNC offense goes as r-senior quarterback T.J. Yates (6-3, 220, r-Sr.)
goes. He is a four year starter and showed a lot of promise as a freshman before
being injured against Virginia Tech as a sophomore. Yates had a down year in
2009, prompting many to think he would lose his starting job to r-freshman Bryn
Renner. Instead, Yates has rebounded with the best year of his career and is
Tyrod Taylor’s top competition for ACC Player of the Year.

Yates is completing 66.4% of his passes, and he has thrown for 2,312 yards
with 15 touchdowns and just four interceptions. His efficiency rating of 153.4
ranks second in the ACC (behind Taylor) and 20th nationally. He is having an
outstanding senior season, with two 400 yard passing games under his belt
against LSU and Florida State. If he’s on top of his game, the UNC offense is
not easy to stop.

On the other hand, Miami held UNC to 289 yards and 10 points, Rutgers held
them to 295 yards and 17 points, while William & Mary nearly beat them until
some late-game heroics by Yates and tailback Johnny White brought the Tar Heels
back.

Unfortunately for UNC, they won’t have the services of White this week, or
likely for the remainder of the season. He broke his clavicle in last week’s win
at Florida State. White was having an excellent season, running for 720 yards
and averaging 5.5 yards per carry. He is also UNC’s third leading receiver with
24 catches. He will certainly be missed by the UNC offense.

In his place, Shaun Draughn (6-0, 210, r-Sr.) is listed atop the depth chart.
Draughn is a former starter as well before being injured. He was suspended for
the season opener against LSU, but since then he’s run for 386 yards and
averaged 4.7 yards per carry in the process. Draughn is a very capable running
back, however he sprained his ankle against Florida State and his status is
unknown for the Virginia Tech game.

Anthony Elzy (6-0, 205, r-Sr.) is also capable of sliding over from fullback
to tailback. He is a former tailback who ran for 74 yards on just 11 carries
against Virginia Tech as a r-freshman in 2007. Hunter Furr (6-0, 210, r-So.) has
also seen limited action, and could potentially see even more against the
Hokies.

UNC is also considering pulling the redshirt off Ryan Houston (6-2, 245,
Sr.). Houston was part of the NCAA investigation, and after he was suspended for
the first five games of the season he elected to take a redshirt year. The
Hokies had difficulty stopping Houston late in last year’s game, but is it worth
it to pull his redshirt so he can play in the final three regular season games?
I’m inclined to think UNC won’t do that, but they did blow wide receiver Dwight
Jones’ redshirt in 2008 to play in a grand total of three games. That’s very Al
Groh-esque.

Speaking of Jones (6-4, 220, Jr.), he is UNC’s top receiver. He has 40
catches for 716 yards and four touchdowns on the season. The Tar Heels do a
great job of getting him open down the field to make big plays. He is the most
improved player on UNC’s team, and he’s finally turning into the player many
thought he’d be when he was a highly-touted recruit.

However, UNC’s second and third leading receivers will miss this game. As
detailed above, Johnny White is finished at tailback, and tight end Zack
Pianalto (30 catches, 311 yards, 1 touchdown) is also out for the season. He was
the favorite target of T.J. Yates earlier in the season.

With Pianalto and White out, the responsibility will fall on UNC’s other wide
receivers to make more plays. Erik Highsmith (6-3, 185, So.) has 17 catches for
216 yards and two touchdowns, but the true sophomore is still young and
learning. Former Virginia Tech recruiting target Jheranie Boyd (6-2, 190, So.)
has 13 catches for 296 yards and three touchdowns. Boyd has top notch speed,
with one 96 yard touchdown to his credit this season.

Joshua Adams (6-4, 200, r-Fr.) has 12 catches for 169 yards and a touchdown,
and he is the final player in UNC’s wide receiver rotation. All of these guys
are very young, with the exception of Jones.

The North Carolina offensive line was in very bad shape when Butch Davis
arrived in Chapel Hill, but it has steadily improved. It’s still not great, but
it has gotten more physical. However, the Tar Heels are still just 85th
nationally in sacks allowed, and though Johnny White and Shaun Draughn are
having good seasons, the running game has still been inconsistent.

UNC does start a true freshman at left tackle, James Hurst (6-7, 300, Fr.).
He was ranked as a top 50 national player coming out of high school. The other
four players are all returning starters, and they are very experienced on the
right side of the line with center Cam Holland (6-2, 310, r-Jr.), right guard
Alan Pelc (6-6, 305, Sr.) and right tackle Mike Ingersoll (6-5, 305, Sr.).

UNC has been very efficient at the big play this year, and they also start
games well. The Tar Heels have scored on their opening drive against Georgia
Tech, Clemson, Virginia, Miami and Florida State. Virginia Tech hasn’t exactly
been playing well in the opening 15 minutes this season, so if the trends
continue they will struggle early defensively in this game.

The big key for the Tech defense is to stop those North Carolina big plays.
They are very good at throwing the ball down the field. Fortunately the Virginia
Tech secondary has been lights out lately. Take a look at what the Tech
secondary has done to starting quarterbacks since the Boston College game.


VT Secondary vs. Starting Quarterbacks since BC

Opp.

Player

Comp.

Att.

Yards

TD

INT

BC

Dave Shinskie

11

25

130

0

2

NC State

Russell Wilson

21

49

362

3

3

Central Michigan

Ryan Radcliff

21

48

266

3

1

Wake Forest

Tanner Price

3

16

92

1

0

Duke

Sean Renfree

12

32

116

0

1

Georgia Tech

Josh Nesbitt

0

3

0

0

1

Totals

68

173

966

7

8

No opposing quarterback has completed 50% of his passes against the Hokies since
ECU’s Dominique Davis back on September 18, and he threw two interceptions in
the process. That’s nearly two months ago! For the season, Virginia Tech is
eighth nationally in pass efficiency defense, so we should have an excellent
matchup on Saturday.

When watching the Tech defense vs. the UNC offense, just remember this key
phrase: limit big plays. If the Hokies can do that, they should be fine.
However, that’s been the biggest issue of the season for this defense, so it
remains to be seen whether or not they can do it against the Tar Heels.

The UNC Defense

The Tar Heels finished last season in the top 10 nationally in total defense,
but this year hasn’t been as good, partly because the NCAA investigation has
taken so many starters away from them.


The UNC Defense

Category

Stat

NCAA Rank

Rushing

145.89 ypg

53

Passing

197.89 ypg

35

Total

343.78 ypg

44

Scoring

22.33 ppg

47

Pass Eff.

120.66

39

TFL

4.78 per game

95

Sacks

1.67 per game

81

Third Downs

40.94%

72

Without a doubt, the NCAA investigation has hit the Tar Heels harder on the
defensive line than at any other position. UNC lost potential first round picks
Marvin Austin and Robert Quinn for the season, as well as key backup Michael
McAdoo. Backup defensive end Linwan Euwell (6-2, 235, r-Jr.) also missed the
first five games, but he’s listed as a starter against the Hokies this week.

Euwell is an undersized end who played linebacker last year, and he has no
tackles for loss and no sacks in four games this season. The lack of depth at
defensive end has also forced the Tar Heels to play a couple of true freshmen
before they were ready. Kareem Martin (6-6, 245, Fr.) is a former Virginia Tech
recruiting target who started three games this year, and he has 1.5 tackles for
loss. Tim Jackson (6-5, 240, Fr.) also plays a lot, and he has 1.5 tackles for
loss and 0.5 sacks.

The Heels aren’t getting good production from those three ends, though Donte
Paige-Moss (6-4, 260, So.) is doing a solid job with six tackles for loss and
2.5 sacks. Other than Paige-Moss, UNC has no playmakers at defensive end, which
explains why they are just 81st in sacks and 95th in tackles for loss.

They do have a major playmaker in Quinton Coples (6-6, 275, Jr.), who starts
at defensive tackle but played defensive end the first two years of his career.
He has 12 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks and nine quarterback hurries this season.
He should be a First Team All-ACC player at the end of the season, and he’s
easily UNC’s best defensive lineman.

Tydreke Powell (6-3, 305, r-Jr.) isn’t a huge playmaker, but he’s a good gap
defensive tackle for the Heels who has three tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks. He
is a former Tech recruiting target.

Overall, the defensive line is the weakness of the defense with the notable
exception of Quinton Coples. This is a group that Virginia Tech should be able
to block.

The linebackers are very good, and they have solid depth. Zach Brown (6-2,
225, Jr.) holds the school record in the 60-meter dash with a time of 6.72
seconds, and he has also started five football games this year when Quan
Sturdivant (6-2, 230, Sr.) was injured. Brown leads the team with 61 tackles on
the season.

Bruce Carter (6-3, 230, Sr.) is one of the most athletic players in the
nation. He has been clocked at a 4.39 in the 40, he has a 40.5 inch vertical
jump, power cleans 374, benches 440 and squats 605. Overall, he might be the top
athlete in college football. Look for the Tar Heels to spy Tyrod Taylor with
Carter, or Zach Brown if he is in the game. With so many athletes at linebacker,
I don’t see Taylor having as much running room in this game.

The best natural linebacker on the team is Quan Sturdivant, who missed time
with a hamstring injury early in the season. He has 5.5 tackles for loss and two
sacks, and he could be selected in the first few rounds of the NFL Draft next
year.

The middle linebacker is Kevin Reddick (6-3, 235, So.), an experienced player
who earned the starting job as a true freshman last season. Reddick is second on
the team with 50 tackles.

Overall, this group of linebackers is very good and very athletic. This is
easily the best linebacking corps the Hokies have faced, or will face this
season.

The secondary struggled a bit early in the season when all five starters were
suspended. Kendric Burney (5-9, 190, Sr.), Deunta Williams (6-2, 215, Sr.) and
Da’Norris Searcy (6-0, 215, Sr.) have all made their return to the lineup in
recent weeks, and the secondary has improved.

Burney is a poor man’s Brandon Flowers. He lacks ideal size, but he’s a
naturally gifted cover corner. He also likes to get physical around the line of
scrimmage, in the passing game and the running game. This will only be his third
game of the season, and he’s still kicking off the rust in some ways.

The starting free safety is Deunta Williams (6-2, 215, Sr.). He is the top
safety in the ACC, and a four-year starter. He was suspended for the first four
games of the season, but he’s made a big difference in UNC’s secondary since his
return. The strong safety is Da’Norris Searcy (6-0, 215, So.), and he also
missed the first games of the season. He leads the team with three
interceptions.

The weakness in the secondary is the other cornerback position, where four
different players could start. Mywan Jackson (5-11, 185, So.), Jabari Price
(6-0, 180, Fr.) or Tre Boston (6-1, 185, Fr.) could all listed as possible
starters on the depth chart, and LeCount Fantroy (5-11, 190, r-Jr.) could start
as well. Fantroy has the most experience, but the three younger players have
more talent.

The Tar Heels aren’t particularly great up front thanks to the loss of two
big time players on the defensive line. However, their back seven on defense is
about as good as it gets. Virginia Tech won’t have David Wilson this game, but
they need to establish a running game with Darren Evans and Ryan Williams. The
weak spot of the UNC defense is their defensive line, and that’s where they
should be attacked.

Special Teams

Statistically speaking, North Carolina hasn’t been particularly good on
special teams this season.


UNC Special Teams Rankings

Category

NCAA Rank

Net Punting

114

Punt Returns

23

Punt Return Def.

62

Kick Returns

87

Kick Return Def.

80

Those stats are somewhat skewed, as we all know that even though Jheranie Boyd
hasn’t broken a big kickoff return this year, with his speed he is certainly
capable. North Carolina has a lot of talented athletes and quality depth, so on
paper they should be able to match Virginia Tech stride for stride on special
teams.

Casey Barth (5-11, 180, Jr.) is North Carolina’s placekicker. He is 10-of-12
on the season with a long of 46 yards. He’s not automatic, but he is a steady,
dependable kicker with solid leg strength. He kicked the game-winning field goal
in Blacksburg last season.

Punter C.J. Feagles (6-0, 205, r-Fr.) has struggled, averaging only 36.6
yards per punt, with a long of only 49 yards. His father is Jeff Feagles, a
long-time NFL punter who retired last year as the NFL leader in punt yardage,
career punts and games played. However, C.J. has not developed into a quality
punter at this point, and UNC ranks just 114th nationally in net punting.

Da’Norris Searcy returns punts, averaging a solid 12.5 yards per return.
However, he has just six returns on the year, and UNC as a team has only nine.
Contrast that to Jayron Hosley, who has 15 returns all by himself, more than the
entire UNC team. The Tech punt team needs to get downfield and make that trend
continue. This will be a close game, so field position could end up being the
difference.

Final Thoughts

Even without the players who are still suspended, this is a very talented
North Carolina football team. Butch Davis has managed to fill his team with a
lot of talent since his arrival. They would have been a major contender for the
ACC Championship without those suspensions, and even with so many players out
they still have a chance.

This is a big game for Davis and the Tar Heels. Davis might only have three
games left as UNC’s head coach, and he better keep winning because that’s
probably the only way he’s going to have a chance to keep his job. The Tar Heel
program might end up being wrecked under his watch, so the least he could do for
UNC fans is to go out with a good season.

Though nobody is really talking about it, this game will feature a matchup
between the top two candidates for ACC Player of the Year, Tyrod Taylor and T.J.
Yates. Taylor probably has the leg up right now, because he’s a dual threat guy
and his team is undefeated in the ACC. However, with a good performance and a
win on Saturday, Yates can make a major case for himself. Either way, I don’t
see the ACC Player of the Year being anyone other than Taylor or Yates.

I worry about the Tech offense lacking two major homerun threats in David
Wilson and Dyrell Roberts. The Tar Heels have a very athletic and fast defense,
but the best way to counter high-profile athletes is to run the ball right at
them and negate their speed advantage. I think the Hokies will try to be
balanced in this game, and they have to be, but I also think whether or not they
can establish a running game is the most important factor offensively for Tech.

Defensively, it’s all about the big play. Teams aren’t putting together long,
consistent drives on the Tech defense. However, they have hit their share of big
plays, and that is something the UNC offense has been good at this season. It’s
imperative that the Hokies limit those big plays downfield. They have to be
aware of the size and skill of Dwight Jones, and the pure speed of Jheranie
Boyd.

I expect this to be a great football game. Virginia Tech has never lost an
ACC road game in the state of North Carolina since joining the ACC. They are a
perfect 10-0 against North Carolina teams on the road since 2004, often times
packing the opposing team’s stadium with Orange and Maroon. UNC fans will be
excited about this game, but Tech fans should still have a good showing.

Frank Beamer and Butch Davis have met nine times before, often with teams
that are pretty even in talent level, or with Davis holding the advantage in
that regard. Beamer is 7-2 all-time against Davis.

I’ll go with the two trends: Beamer’s record against Davis, and Virginia
Tech’s history in the state of North Carolina.

Chris’ Prediction: Virginia Tech 27, North Carolina 24

Will Stewart’s Take: Last year, I was struck by how big, fast and
physical UNC was. When push came to shove, literally, in Lane Stadium last year,
UNC exerted their will on the Hokies. Tech took a 17-14 lead early in the fourth
quarter, then got mowed down by a 16-play, 78-yard field goal drive for the
Heels that took nine minutes off the clock.

Then Ryan Williams fumbled on the Hokie 24 yard line, and the Heels
methodically crammed the ball down the middle of the Tech defense, moving it to
the 4 yard line and kicking a winning field goal that amounted to little more
than an extra point.

The end of last year’s game was in direct contrast to the end of the 2008
game in Chapel Hill, a 20-17 Hokie victory. Leading by that score about seven
minutes left, the Hokies took possession on their own two-yard line after a
Macho Harris interception. Despite everyone in the stadium knowing Tech was
going to run the ball, the Hokies pounded it right up the middle, moved it all
the way to the UNC 39 yard line, and ate enough time off the clock to seal the
win.

But the John Blake-fueled recruiting machine that UNC built when Butch Davis
took the job in November of 2006 has steadily been improving the Heels’ talent.
That clearly came through in last year’s game, I thought.

The agent and tutor scandal has cost UNC some of that talent, most notably
Marvin Austin, Robert Quinn, Greg Little, and Charles Brown. As Chris detailed,
that loss of talent has rendered the Heels less potent statistically, especially
on defense. They lost a lot of talent and experience.

But they have something this year they haven’t had in recent seasons: good
quarterback play. And that counts for a lot. T.J. Yates already has more passing
yards and passing touchdowns than last year, but his interceptions are way down,
from 15 (in 13 games) in 2009 to just 4 (in 9 games) this year.

So let’s get to the nitty-gritty. Offensively, both teams have senior
quarterbacks performing at a high level. UNC is depleted at running back and
tight end, and two of their top three pass-catchers (Pianalto and White) are
out. The Hokies are down a running back (David Wilson) and a wide receiver
(Dyrell Roberts), but I wouldn’t call Tech “depleted.” And the Hokies’
tight end, Andre Smith, is playing his way up the NFL draft boards.

Defensively, both teams have good defensive backfields, and the defensive
lines are basically a wash, though UNC’s defensive tackle Quinton Coples (12
TFLs, 6.5 sacks) will be the best DL on the field Saturday. UNC is clearly
superior in the linebacking corps, in terms of depth, talent, and performance.

Breaking it down, this looks like a dogfight in the making, and it’s
anybody’s ball game. My first instinct, before studying UNC, was to pick the
Heels to win. I don’t think Tech is good enough to run the table in November,
but I don’t think they’re going to lose to Miami or UVa, so …

But now it looks like an even matchup, so intangibles come into play. The
Hokies are coming off a brutal, emotional game that injured a couple key players
(Dyrell Roberts and Chris Drager), but UNC is coming off a huge, hard-fought
road game that cost them their leading rusher (Johnny White). It’s hard to say
if either team has the advantage in the intangibles.

It’s possible that the Hokies or the Heels could lay an egg in this one.
Together, the two teams have won 13 of their last 14, so one of them is due to
play a bad game. UNC already played two bad games recently, getting
carpet-bombed by Miami 33-10 and squeaking one out over William & Mary,
21-17.

I’m just writing in circles now. I give up. One of these teams is going to
make the plays to win, and there’s no telling which one it is. Since this is a
VT web site, I’ll go with the Hokies, in a squeaker.

Will’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 24, North Carolina 23

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