Virginia Tech’s first ACC test comes this weekend. Or, maybe it won’t.
Thanks to Hurricane Matthew, which is expected to bring large amounts of rain and heavy wind to the East Coast, the Hokies’ game vs. North Carolina is in jeopardy. The game is scheduled for Saturday at 3:30 p.m., which would be during the storm.
The ACC held a conference call on Tuesday to discuss possibilities, but came away without a decision, saying they will continue to monitor the situation. The ACC said that they will talk again on Thursday, but that they could meet sooner if necessary.
No matter when Virginia Tech plays North Carolina, Jerod Evans isn’t worried.
“If the game is postponed, then so be it, we’ll just get ready for whenever it’s supposed to be played,” Evans said.
In order to prepare for the possibilities of wet playing conditions, Virginia Tech practiced with wet footballs on Tuesday. With rain and wind, throwing the football can be difficult, but Isaiah Ford knows his team will have to find a way to produce through the air.
“We know that were going to have to be able to throw the ball still,” Ford said. “It’s just having to focus and be attentive and make the plays when they present themselves, because we know they’re going to be limited, or maybe, since it’s raining. We’re still going to have to make the plays when they come.”
Foster impressed with North Carolina skill players
Whenever the Hokies do play North Carolina, Defensive Bud Coordinator Bud Foster will be tasked with slowing down the Tar Heels’ offense, which ranks 32nd in total offense and 27th in scoring.
Foster said that playing against Virginia Tech’s offense in practice helps prepare his guys for Carolina.
“It’s like we’re playing against ourselves in a lot of ways,” Foster said. “That’s beneficial when it’s all said and done. The teams that are the up-tempo, the run-pass options, they want to be physical and run the football and so do we.”
Foster had high praise for North Carolina’s set of receivers and running backs. Ryan Switzer leads the team in receptions with 47, receiving yards with 587, while Mack Hollins leads the team with six touchdown receptions. Bug Howard and Austin Proehl have also given opposing defenses fits this season, combining for four touchdown receptions.
“The receiving corps obviously speaks for themselves,” Foster said. “You’ve got three guys with a lot of experience there and then you’ve got the (Austin) Proehl kid coming in and he does some good things.”
“They’re very experienced I would say, first and foremost,” said cornerbacks coach Brian Mitchell. “Those wide receivers have a ton of reps in the scheme and Larry (Fedora) has been doing a great job.”
Mitchell has some experience with North Carolina Head Coach Larry Fedora. Mitchell coached against him at East Carolina, while Fedora was at Southern Miss, as well as at West Virginia, when Fedora worked with Oklahoma State.
“I know the pace with which they’re going to go at, I know the philosophy of what he thinks team-wise, offensively and what they want to get done,” Mitchell said. “They’ve got some guys with some great tools and they’ve got a quarterback who can command it.”
In order to try and lock down North Carolina’s wide receivers, the Hokies will rely on Mook Reynolds in coverage. Reynolds has played the whip linebacker position this season, as well as the nickel corner position.
“Mook (Reynolds) gives us the best of both worlds,” Mitchell said. “I mean he can go in there against 21 personnel, 12 personnel yet be in space and cover like a corner. Mook really is a corner, y’all just don’t know that. That position does require a guy to be very dynamic and very versatile and Mook’s that.”
Reynolds will likely line up over Switzer for most of the game, as Switzer primarily plays from the slot.
“He’s a good receiver, but we’ve played good receivers before,” Reynolds said. “We’ve just got to go out there and play football.”
Foster also praised quarterback Mitch Trubisky, who has completed 76 percent of his passes and thrown 13 touchdowns with no interceptions.
“I think the quarterback is playing extremely well. Spins the ball very good, makes good decisions. He’s more mobile than you would like him to be,” Foster said. “He can run, they do run him some.”
“We played against him two years ago, he was young at the time and we got a pick-six I think and we didn’t see him after that,” Foster said. “What I’ve seen, just watching him, I’ve seen a guy that’s really developed into a leader. I see a guy that has developed his skill set. I see a guy with tremendous poise in the pocket. I see a guy who knows where his receivers are and where he’s going to check down if things aren’t there.”
Evans praised Trubisky for his ability to command the offense and his teammates on offense.
“His players gravitate around him a lot, you can tell that right off the bat,” Evans said. “Just those qualities of a leader, which any quarterback should show, but he can sling the mess out of the rock, so that’s eye-popping.”
Foster said that he hopes to slow down North Carolina’s rushing attack, similar to what Pittsburgh did just a couple weeks ago. The Tar Heels had just 18 rushing yards vs. Pittsburgh on Sept. 24, which is well below their average of 136 rushing yards per game.
“If we can make them one dimensional, I think we can be a little bit more versatile than Pitt was in the backend, but we’ve got to stop the run and we can’t give them a wide array of explosive plays. We can’t allow them to do that.”
Virginia Tech has an opportunity to exploit struggling Tar Heels’ defense
While Foster and Co. look to slow down one of the better offenses in the ACC, Virginia Tech’s offense looks to exploit a defense that ranks 105th in yardage allowed and 90th in points allowed.
“They do a great job of making you earn every single yard and making you execute,” said Virginia Tech Head Coach Justin Fuente on Monday. “They don’t tend to give up huge chunks of yardage. They do a great job of keeping the ball in front of them. Very sound in all their schemes.”
Ford reiterated that thought on Tuesday night.
“They’re a ‘bend but not break’ kind of defense,” Ford said. “It’s going to be our job to make those plays and maybe that’s catching a short route and getting up field for yards after the catch, maybe it’s things like that.”
Evans said that the Carolina defense puts a lot of pressure on their defensive backs, forcing them to play in man coverage.
“They’ve got some physical bodies up front,” Evans said. “They trust their DBs a lot, their skill positions a lot to cover our skill positions. They play a lot of man, two-high safeties, that’s pretty much what shows up to me right off the bat, that they trust their DBs a lot to cover one-on-one with our skill positions.”
When asked about Tech possibly being able to take advantage of the man coverage?
“We’ll see,” Evans said.
Ford wasn’t as tight-lipped, but didn’t give away too much information.
“Well, we’ll definitely try to take our shots with our game plan,” Ford said. “When they have some press-man coverage, we’ll have to be good with winning the 50-50 balls and running our routes and being clean, because like I said, they’re not freshmen.”