Hokies travel south for border battle with UNC

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Saturday’s game with UNC is huge. Both teams are 0-1 in the ACC, and the loser of this game will most likely be eliminated from the Coastal Division race. Expect to see two desperate football teams on the field.

Carolina is reeling after having been crushed defensively in the last two weeks. Even their first two weeks were not especially good. They had to rally in the fourth quarter to beat San Diego State 31-27 at home, and they were losing to Liberty at home with under six minutes to play in the third quarter before pulling away to win 56-29.

OXVT’s Tale of the Tape

We start this preview, as always, the OXVT’s “Tale of the Tape” infographic. Click for a larger version!

vt-unc_tale_of_the_tape

The Tar Heels have done nothing to suggest that they are a good football team this season. However, they are still a capable football team. The Hokies will have to play a good game on Saturday. Here’s a closer look at Carolina.

Unreal defensive stats, in a bad way

North Carolina has given up 120 points in their last two games. They allowed 70 points against ECU, and then followed that up by allowing 50 at Clemson. Here is how UNC ranks in the major defensive categories…

Rushing: #92 (190 ypg)
Passing: #127 (353 ypg)
Total: #124 (543 ypg)
Scoring: #126 (44 ppg)
Sacks: #86 (1.75 per game)
TFL: #36 (6.75 per game)
Interceptions: #7 (1.75 per game)

Throw out their game against Liberty, and here is how the Tar Heels have fared against 1-A competition…

Rushing: #90 (201 ypg)
Passing: #128 (407.7 ypg, dead last)
Total: #127 (608.7 ypg)
Scoring: #125 (49 ppg)
Sacks: #57 (2 per game)
TFL: #12 (8 per game)
Interceptions: #13 (1.67 per game)

The Tar Heels have been bad against the run, and they are arguably the worst team in college football against the pass. Clemson and East Carolina had receivers running wide open all day long, and even though UNC managed to rally and beat San Diego State at home, they still allowed over 500 yards of total offense.

Somebody has to rank #124 in total defense, but there is no reason for a program like North Carolina to be there. They certainly don’t have the best defensive talent, but it’s pretty obvious that they are more talented than they have been showing in the box scores. An ACC team shouldn’t give up 120 points in two games no matter who they are playing.

Virginia Tech’s offense obviously isn’t as good as Clemson’s or East Carolina’s, but their #66 ranking out of 128 is much better than we’ve seen in the past. Here’s a year by year look at Tech’s offensive ranking since 2004:

2004: #65
2005: #57
2006: #100
2007: #103
2008: #103
2009: #50
2010: #41
2011: #35
2012: #81
2013: #101

That’s an average of 73.6 over a 10 year span. In other words, Tech’s offense so far in 2014 is above average by our standards. For the most part, moving the football hasn’t been a huge issue. Turnovers and punching the ball in the end zone have been the problems. I’m confident the Hokies will move the football against the Tar Heels on Saturday, but one of Tech’s offensive weaknesses matches up poorly with UNC’s main (only?) defensive strength.

Interceptions: Who will prevail?

North Carolina averages 1.75 interceptions per game, which ranks #7 in the country. Against 1-A teams, they are still #12 nationally in interceptions. There could be two reasons for that.

1: UNC’s secondary is adept at making plays.
2: Teams know UNC’s secondary is terrible, so they throw more passes, and naturally that creates more interceptions.

It’s probably a little bit of both.

Whatever the reasons, the Tar Heels can intercept the football. Michael Brewer, for all the good things he’s done for the team (and there are plenty of those), has thrown 10 interceptions this season. The Hokies could go up and down the field on North Carolina, but if Brewer turns the football over, those drives won’t mean much.

This is the game where Brewer’s turnovers need to start heading in the other direction. He has thrown at least one interception in each game this year. He’s due for a zero-pick game. Hopefully it comes this Saturday. If it does, I’m pretty sure the Hokies will win. If it doesn’t, all bets are off.

Defensive Players to Watch

How do you pick out the best players on a defense that is so bad? The Tar Heels play a ton of guys on that side of the ball. 19 different players have recorded a tackle for loss.

FS Tim Scott (6-0, 195, Sr.): Scott is from Colonial Forge, VA. He began his career as a cornerback, where he started as a true freshman. He has since been moved to free safety. He is the most experienced player on this North Carolina defense. He did not have a scholarship offer from Tech when coming out of high school.

WLB Travis Hughes (6-2, 220, Sr.): A 757 prospect, Hughes and his father were assured by Butch Davis that Davis was going to be at Carolina for a long time, and that the Tar Heels were not going on probation. Like so many others though the years, Hughes bought into the lies of Davis, and the former 4-star linebacker prospect elected to spend four years at a school that doesn’t play defense. He is projected to go undrafted in the spring. He’s a solid college linebacker, but he could have been better.

DT Ethan Farmer (6-3, 295, r-Sr.): Farmer is another former SuperPrep All-American who hasn’t lived up to his potential at North Carolina. He was the #5 recruit in the state coming out of high school. However, he has just 5.5 tackles for loss in his entire career at UNC. Nevertheless, he is probably UNC’s best defensive tackle.

RAM Donnie Miles (5-11, 200, r-Fr.): I highlight Miles not because he’s a great player, but because I think he can be exploited. He’s a r-Fr. playing a very difficult position (RAM, basically UNC’s version of whip/nickel)

The UNC Offense: Good, but how good?

Here’s a look at UNC’s offensive numbers against 1-A teams:

Rushing: #94 (120 ypg)
Passing: #18 (317 ypg)
Total: #48 (437 ypg)
Scoring: #31 (35.7 ppg)

Those are pretty good overall numbers, though believe it or not only 33 yards per game separates the Hokies and Tar Heels in total offense.

Carolina’s rushing numbers aren’t impressive, but they fell behind early against Clemson and East Carolina. I think they would like to try and run the football more, but they’ll only be able to do so if they can stay in games.

In the title of this section, I asked how good the Carolina offense actually is. Here’s are the reasons I ask that:

1: UNC’s first two touchdowns against ECU were on trick plays – a WR pass, and a fake field goal.
2: UNC score two touchdowns against ECU’s backups in the final 10 minutes of the game after the score was 63-27. The Pirates weren’t trying on defense at that point.
3: Again, UNC scored two touchdowns against Clemson in the fourth quarter after the Tigers went up 43-21. How focused was the Clemson defense at that point?

I think the Carolina offense is good, but there are still questions as to exactly how good they are.

The UNC Running Game

The Tar Heels have four primary ball carriers.

RB Elijah Hood (6-0, 222, Fr.): The true freshman leads Carolina in rushing with 36 carries for 163 yards (4.5 ypc). He has two rushing touchdowns.

QB Marquise Williams (6-2, 220, r-Jr.): UNC’s quarterback is mobile, and he has 38 carries for 149 yards and two touchdowns. Williams has been an effective ball carrier for the Tar Heels.

RB TJ Logan (5-10, 185, So.): Logan rushed for over 500 yards as a true freshman last year. This year he has 25 carries for 117 yards (4.7 ypc). Logan will likely get the start on Saturday, though that doesn’t mean he’ll get a lot of carries.

RB Romar Morris (5-10, 190, r-Jr.): I thought Morris flashed a lot of potential as the backup to Giovani Bernard a couple of years back, however he has gotten lost in the shuffle since then. He has 24 carries for 77 yards and three touchdowns on the season.

Overall, the Tar Heels are averaging just 3.8 yards per carry this season. However, it’s unfair to make broad judgments about their running game because they’ve been playing from behind recently. They were getting blown out early by ECU and Clemson, and that creates more passing situations.

I expect UNC will try to establish a balanced attack early against the Hokies. If they stay balanced, they can have a successful day. However, if the running game is shut down, that generally plays into the hands of the Hokies.

The UNC Passing Game

Marquise Williams is a very capable quarterback, and he has very capable targets spread amongst all the skill positions. This is the strength of Carolina’s team.

WR Ryan Switzer (5-10, 180, So.): Switzer led the nation with five punt returns for touchdowns a year ago. He has a bigger receiving role this year, and he leads the Tar Heels with 19 catches for 202 yards and a touchdown.

WR Bug Howard (6-4, 200, So.): Howard has 16 receptions for 139 yards and a touchdown. You’ll find him lined up on the outside.

WR Quinshad Davis (6-4, 215, Jr.): As a freshman in 2012, Davis caught 61 passes for 776 yards. He had 16 catches for 178 yards against UVA that year. Last season, his numbers dropped to 48 catches for 730 yards. Through four games this season, he is only third on the team in catches with 13 for 142 yards and two touchdowns. I’m not sure why we’ve seen year-by-year regression by Davis. Two years ago, he was poised to be the ACC’s next star, and now people barely talk about him. He’s still plenty capable of having a big game, and in fact he’s had two good games against the Hokies:

2012: 6 catches, 65 yards
2013: 9 catches, 94 yards, 1 TD

Despite his modest numbers this season and the overall regression in stats since his freshman year, I fear Davis more than any other UNC receiver.

WR Mack Hollins (6-3, 200, So.): Hollins has 11 catches for 277 yards and three touchdowns. He had a 91 yard touchdown reception against San Diego State.

TE Jack Tabb (6-3, 250, Sr.): Tabb is an underrated tight end who has 10 catches for 77 yards and two touchdowns.

Virginia Tech must guard against the big play against this talented group of receivers. Carolina is #11 in the country with three plays of 60+ yards, #9 with two plays of 70+ yards, and they are one of just 11 teams in the country with a 90+ yard play this season.

The Carolina offense hasn’t had a chance to be balanced and consistent this year because their defense has buried them in a hole the last two weeks. It’s not exactly clear how good their running game is, though my suspicion is that it’s mediocre to below average. Tech has to limit big plays and tackle well, and thus force UNC to drive the length of the field with a short passing game and mediocre running game.

Stop Switzer

Here’s a comparison that nobody is talking about:

VT punt returns: 19 returns for 172 yards
Opponent punt returns: 6 returns for 29 yards

Greg Stroman has been terrific fielding and returning punts as a true freshman, and Tech’s punt coverage team has been very good. The Hokies are dominating opponents in punt return yards. We asked Frank Beamer to fix this problem, and to his credit, he has … to this point.

This weekend is a new challenge: Ryan Switzer. The sophomore led the nation with five punt returns for touchdowns a season ago. This year he is averaging just 6.4 yards per return, but he is capable of breaking one at any point. He returned one for a touchdown against Tech last year, but it was called back for a clipping penalty.

Frank Beamer is putting an emphasis on his punt team this week in practice. He is stressing the importance of getting good height on punts, and he is putting extra pressure on the gunners to have good games. If Switzer breaks one on Saturday, it won’t be because of a lack of emphasis by the Hokies in practice.

Prediction

Here’s what Virginia Tech fans are saying this week: “Yeah, UNC’s defense is bad, but our offense will make them look like the 85 Bears.”

Here’s what UNC fans are saying this week: “Yeah, Virginia Tech’s offense is historically bad, but we’ll make Michael Brewer look like Joe Montana, and Isaiah Ford will be Jerry Rice.”

The truth generally lies somewhere in between. I expect the Hokie offense will find success this week. I think they will move the football against Carolina, though I’m not expecting ECU or Clemson production. The key will be how the Hokies finish drives, and whether or not Michael Brewer turns the football over. If they can take advantage of their scoring opportunities, and Brewer can protect the football, I have a hard time seeing Tech losing this game.

However, the Hokies haven’t been good in the scoring zone since the Ohio State game, and Michael Brewer has 10 interceptions on the season. You can’t count on something happening that hasn’t happened before.

The statistical analysis says Virginia Tech will win this football game…

VT total offense (#66) vs. UNC total defense (#124): Big advantage for the Hokies
VT total defense (#27) vs. UNC total offense (#61): Advantage for the Hokies
VT third down offense (#13) vs. UNC third down defense (#125): Big advantage for the Hokies
VT third down defense (#7) vs. UNC third down offense (#55): Big advantage for the Hokies

To be perfectly blunt, on paper the Hokies should probably win this game by a comfortable margin, just looking at those stats. However, until Tech stops turning the ball over, and until they start scoring consistently once they cross the opponent’s 40, they aren’t going to beat anybody with a pulse by a comfortable margin. I can see the Hokies winning this game handily if they change some of their habits. However, we can’t expect them to actually do that, until we see them do it.

I think Tech will win, but it will probably be closer than it should be.

Chris’ Prediction: Virginia Tech 31, UNC 24

Will Stewart’s Take: From 2004-2011, the Hokies owned UNC, winning seven of eight games. The lone exception was a 20-17 Thursday night Tar Heel victory in Lane Stadium in 2009, a win made possible by an utterly flaccid offensive performance by the Hokies, capped by a Ryan Williams fumble that set the Heels up for the game-winning field goal.

The total score of those eight games, including the 2009 loss, was 196-115. So it was a shocker in 2012 when the Heels drilled the Hokies 48-34, piling up 533 yards in the process. Then again, lots of things about the 2012 season were shocking, and actually, Chris and I both picked VT to lose that game.

Tech righted the ship last year, winning 27-17 in Lane Stadium, but UNC outgained VT and outscored the Hokies 17-13 in the final 40 minutes, after the Hokies had taken a 14-0 lead. It was one of those games that was a win, but didn’t really feel like it afterwards.

What I’m saying is that this series has basically been up for grabs since 2009, with VT holding a 3-2 edge in games and a slim 128-116 lead in scoring. This year’s game doesn’t feel any different for me, as if it could go either way.

I think you can throw out almost everything the Heels have done so far. I don’t think their offensive and defensive performances to date are any sort of predictor for what they’ll do against the Hokies. Just my feeling.

Nothing would surprise me, from a VT blowout to a UNC romp. But I’m picking it close, and I’ve got a bad feeling about this one. Nonetheless, I’m bullheadedly sticking with the good guys.

Will’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 34, North Carolina 31

 

What's your prediction for the VT-UNC game? (VT is favored by 2)

  • VT wins by 20+ (3%, 7 Votes)
  • VT wins by 10-19 (24%, 50 Votes)
  • VT wins by 1-9 (41%, 87 Votes)
  • UNC wins by 1-9 (23%, 48 Votes)
  • UNC wins by 10-19 (6%, 12 Votes)
  • UNC wins by 20+ (3%, 6 Votes)

Total Voters: 210

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23 Responses You are logged in as Test

    1. this game is all about our game plan on Offense
      with a banged up defense, Loefler needs to find a way to score 28 points on O
      We better have some variery in our play calling or Brewer will be creamed and subject to the TO bug that has plagued the QB position under Loefler
      To me this is all on Loefler- his play calling has been suspect(see the Key Play last week for explanantion), VT is playing against a terrible defense and finally the breakdown we have had in our losses have been at the position Loefler coaches

  1. At least they don’t have that 8’10” 478# RB Ryan Houston anymore.

    This game will come down to whether Brewer turns the ball over. If he coughs it 3x we’re dead. 1-2x might still get us beat.

  2. VT loses again. Brewer throws at least 3 interceptions, and we will have 12 -14 penalties. Sorry, I just don’t see this team improving. Poor game management also.

  3. 34-24 VT over UNC. Heart-attack Hokies will make the game closer than it should be, again.

    ’85 Bears? Joe Montana and Jerry Rice? Chris: Time to donate that Members Only jacket and acid wash jeans to the Salvation Army this year?

  4. How can both of you pick this Tech team to win? Wow!!! We can’t run, Brewer panics and makes horrible decisions constantly (have you looked at tape and seen how many passes should have been picked that weren’t), and our defense is average at best. The only thing we have going for us Saturday is the fact we are on the road. I hope you guys are right but I don’t see it.

  5. GO HOKIES!!!!
    VT – PI CUBED
    unc = square root of 196
    essentially VT 30-ish to unc 14
    After we are a Tech so use values that a heel can’t understand.

  6. We SHOULD win, but then again we SHOULD be 5-0. We looked 14-20 pts better than GT until we stupidly game the ball away before half up 13-3, then did the SAME thing late 2Q vs WMU leading 18-7. In 2 straight games we turned halftime leads of 16-3 to 16-10 and 21-7 into 18-10. Both TOs on first down, both causing us to lose a 2 score lead

  7. uh oh. Chris and Will couldn’t see VT losing to ECU and GT. Now Chris said the magic word again haha.

  8. And we really do not do well against tall receivers…. Here is to working on our jump balls against tall receivers…let’s get a few INT’s this week!

  9. This is A Game that VT will either play to Win and use their Strengths on Offense or they will lose . IMHO, the OC play calls will be more on him for the win than Brewer . I pick VT to lose at least two more games because of things I just stated, this is a Game that could make it three. I have been going there for VT’s Football games since we got into the ACC, it’s not easy… I hope we take to them …Good article as always …thank you.

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