Virginia Tech will travel to Chapel Hill, N.C. Saturday, attempting to avoid losing its first two ACC games since joining the conference in 2004.
Frank Beamer knows there is an increased sense of importance surrounding this game – not just among the Tech fanbase, but within the locker room – because of the loss to Georgia Tech to open ACC play.
“I think there has to be,” Beamer said. “I think any time you play on your side, or even in the conference, particularly on your side though, when we have a loss already, it makes it even more important.”
Only once since 2004 did the Hokies begin ACC play 0-1 – Tech lost to Clemson in the 2011 ACC opener. Seven straight ACC wins after that though, and the Hokies earned a spot in the conference championship.
To ensure they don’t fall to 0-2 this year, the Hokies will have to beat North Carolina while working in a replacement for Shai McKenzie, who tore the ACL in his right knee against Western Michigan.
Before his injury, McKenzie had been alternating series with fellow true freshman back Marshawn Williams. Now though, with roughly 50 percent of the handoffs unaccounted for, Beamer is looking to a host of backs to fill the void.
“I think Trey (Edmunds) will get in there and get more carries,” Beamer said. Edmunds was Tech’s primary ball carrier a year ago before breaking his right leg, and is convincing the coaches with every passing week that he is closer to being 100 percent.
“J.C. (Coleman), Joel Caleb did a nice job when they got in there the other day. We will see where practice goes,” Beamer said. “I think Sam Rogers is a guy that does everything. He has one of the best sets of hands on the team. He blocks for those tailbacks. He ran it one time the other day for about six yards, I think it was. He’s just a football player. He’s just all football player. So I think we’ll see him in the mix too.”
In addition to the running game, Tech will look to improve on an area of offense that has been just off the past couple weeks.
Several times since the beginning of the year, Saturday not withstanding, quarterback Michael Brewer seemed to be just a hair from connecting on a big time play with one of his receivers.
“I bet we were three or four plays away from scoring 50-somehting points, which is frustrating,” Brewer said. “Like I’ve said previously, it’s frustrating, but at the same time it’s there. It’s not like we are talking about a lot of things that we need to drastically improve on. It’s just a little thing here and there that’s the difference in a touchdown or not.
“The play to Cam (Phillips) down the sideline, I dropped back, stepped up. He had kind of a double-move route on and we just missed him. It was maybe half of a yard too long. We’ll go back and make sure he broke down at the right depth and all that. There are a lot of things that go into it, but the fact of the matter is we were probably half a yard off.”
Despite being on the flip side of the quarterback-wide receiver exchange, true freshman Isaiah Ford, whose four touchdowns tie him for the most in the ACC, agrees that correcting the little things will make the difference on the big plays.
“It’s really frustrating when you’re that close to a touchdown or a big play,” Ford said. “It’s something that coach, he tells us that all the time, both coach (Scot) Loeffler and coach (Aaron) Moorehead. They preach that it’s about the little details. Just focusing on the little details in practice and we’ll get that done.”
If the Hokies are able to correct the details in the days before they head south, the opportunity for the big play may be there often against the Tar Heels.
UNC has allowed more than 500 yards in its last three games, including 789 yards two weeks ago to East Carolina. They have allowed 120 points over their last two games against ECU and Clemson
“Obviously with one conference loss already it starts to get a little more important to win each game, not that it wasn’t before. This is a big game,” Brewer said. “They are extremely talented on both sides of the ball.
“Defensively, they’ve gone through some struggles the past few weeks, but you can’t really fall into that trap because you watch them play on film, they are extremely athletic, they run really well, very aggressive. So you give them life and you give them confidence, you’re in for a long day.”