Beamer Faces Tough Matchup in Final Home Game

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It’s still hard to believe, but Frank Beamer will be coaching his last home game for Virginia Tech this Saturday. It’s been a long time since September 12, 1987 when he coached his first home game, a 22-10 loss to #10 Clemson. Unfortunately, this challenge will be just as daunting a task as that Clemson game. #12 UNC is coming to town, and the Tar Heels are one of the hottest teams in the country.

Since being upset by an inferior South Carolina team to open the season, UNC has won nine games in a row. That includes back-to-back wins over Duke (66-31) and Miami (59-21) that forced the whole country to stand up and take notice. In both of those games, the UNC backup offense played the entire fourth quarter. To show you how much of a roll the Tar Heels are on right now, here are backup quarterback Mitch Trubisky’s stats over those two games: 10 of 10 for 127 yards, 4 carries for 26 yards.

Larry Fedora has been slowly building this Carolina program, but he knew he needed a defense to go with his offense. He went out and hired Gene Chizik to coach the defense in the offseason, and though things aren’t perfect, they have improved quite a bit. Here are UNC’s defensive efficiency ratings from 2014 compared to this year…

2014: #99
2015: #63

While still not dominant, that 36 spot improvement has helped the Tar Heels take the top spot in the Coastal Division this season.

Let’s take a closer look at #12 North Carolina.

The UNC Offense vs. the VT Defense

Here’s how these two units match up statistically, with the UNC offense listed first…

Overall: #17
Passing: #9
Rushing: #41
Success Rate: #18
Explosive Plays: #5

The Tar Heels feature a very balanced offense that is capable of driving the length of the field. They are also one of the best teams in the country when it comes to creating big plays. This will be one of Bud Foster’s biggest challenges of the season.

Here’s how the Tech defense stacks up…

Overall: #27
Passing: #72
Rushing: #26
Success Rate: #10
Explosive Plays: #122

Tech’s defense has played better the last two weeks against two teams who have a combined one ACC win. However, UNC will be a totally different animal. The Hokies are one of the worst teams in the country when it comes to giving up big plays, and that’s a matchup that goes UNC’s way on paper.

Big Playmakers…Literally

UNC is #5 in the country in explosive plays, which means they have a lot of athleticism. However, they also have a lot of size across the board on the offensive side of the ball.

QB Marquise Williams (6-2, 225, Sr.): Williams actually looks and runs bigger than he’s listed. He’s completed 66.2% of his passes for 2,222 yards, with 16 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He’s also run for 659 yards, averaged 6.9 yards per carry, and scored nine touchdowns on the ground. He’s one of the most productive players in the country.

RB Elijah Hood (6-0, 220, So.): 945 rushing yards, 6.1 ypc, 12 rushing touchdowns. Hood also has nine catches out of the backfield. He’s a dynamic running back at the college level, and the Tar Heels would be undefeated right now had Larry Fedora not forgotten about Hood in the South Carolina game.

WR Quinshad Davis (6-4, 220, Sr.): UNC went into the state of South Carolina and beat out the Gamecocks and Clemson for Quinshad Davis. He is the school record holder for career receptions (189) and receiving touchdowns (23). He’s also third all-time in receiving yards.

WR Bug Howard (6-5, 210, Jr.): 22 catches, 407 yards, three touchdowns. Howard is an experienced veteran.

WR Mack Hollins (6-4, 210, Jr.): 22 catches, 585 yards, seven touchdowns. Hollins averages 26.6 yards per catch. As a comparison, Andre Davis averaged 27.5 yards per catch in 1999, and you know how fast that guy was! What’s even more impressive is that Hollins is a former walk-on.

The Hokies will have a lot of talent and size to deal with on Saturday. The Tar Heels can attack defenses both horizontally and vertically, which makes them extra dangerous.

The UNC Offensive Line

From left to right, the UNC offensive line looks like this…

LT Bentley Spain (6-6, 300, So.): 4-star recruit, top 200 player, offers from everybody
LG Caleb Peterson (6-5, 300, Jr.): 3-star recruit; offers from Alabama, Auburn, Stanford, etc.
C Lucas Crowley (6-3, 290, Jr.): 3-star recruit; offers from South Carolina, Tennessee, Nebraska, etc.
RG Landon Turner (6-4, 325, Sr.): 4-star recruit, top 125 player; offers from Florida, LSU, Stanford, etc.
RT Jon Heck (6-6, 300, Jr.): 3-star recruit; Miami offer; son of Andy Heck

No offense can be complete with a good offensive line, and the Tar Heels have that. For the most part, their line is made up of players who had multiple scholarship offers from some of the major programs throughout college football.

Here’s how these guys are viewed from an NFL Draft standpoint, per NFLDraftScout.com.

Spain: #6 OT in the 2018 Draft
Peterson: #7 OG in the 2017 Draft
Crowley: #8 C in the 2017 Draft
Turner: #3 OG in the 2016 Draft
Heck: #12 OT in the 2017 Draft

In other words, there’s a very good chance that every single starting offensive lineman for UNC could be drafted. They’ve paved the way for an offense that averages 5.8 yards per carry, and they’ve allowed just 11 sacks in 10 game. At worst, this is the second best offensive line on Tech’s schedule this year, and they could be even better than Ohio State’s line.

The VT Offense vs. the UNC Defense

Here’s how Tech’s offense ranks…

Overall: #81
Passing: #69
Rushing: #61
Success Rate: #77
Explosive Plays: #117

Tech has been pretty balanced between the run and the pass. However, those big plays that were there the first few games of the season have pretty much disappeared.

Meanwhile, here’s what UNC’s defense looks like…

Overall: #63
Passing: #53
Rushing: #120
Success Rate: #92
Explosive Plays: #1

Obviously big plays are going to be hard to come by in this game. Tech doesn’t make them, and UNC is the best team in the country at stopping them. The Hokies must take advantage of UNC’s subpar rushing defense. Travon McMillian and company need to have a big game.

The Secondary: The Strength of the Defense

Michael Brewer noted that North Carolina does a great job taking away the opposing team’s top receiver with bracket coverage, and they show offenses a number of NFL looks.

UNC ranks #11 nationally in pass defense, and #1 in explosive plays allowed. Though their S&P+ pass defense rating is only #53 nationally, it still clear that the secondary is the strength of their defense.

Northern Virginia native MJ Stewart (5-11, 200, So.) leads the team with three interceptions and 15 passes defended. In fact, Stewart ranks #9 nationally in passes defended despite missing two games due to a suspension.

I’m not looking for a huge game out of the Virginia Tech passing game, but they have to do enough to sustain drives. The Hokies have to be balanced, or else it will be tough to score points.

Time of Possession: What Does it Mean?

The party line this week goes something like this: “Virginia Tech need to run the football effectively to keep North Carolina’s potent offense off the field.”

On paper that makes sense. There’s one problem, though. That’s exactly what UNC’s opponents have done all season, and it hasn’t worked. UNC gives up a lot of rushing yards, and they rank #125 in the country in time of possession out of 128 teams. On average, the Tar Heels hold the ball for less than 26 minutes per game. Yet the Tar Heels have one of the most explosive offenses in the country, so what does it really matter?

Well, it does matter. In their last two games, UNC has scored 125 points. Their time of possession in those two games is split 50-50 with the opponent. They are getting the ball about four extra minutes per game over those two contests. For an explosive team like the Tar Heels, that could potentially mean two or three extra touchdowns, and that could be the difference in the game.

Travon McMillian needs to have a big game, and the Hokies also need to find someone to help him out in the running game. The Hokies have averaged 39.9 carries per game this year, not including sacks. They probably need to run it even more than that this weekend, but to do that they are going to have to find somebody who is capable of giving McMillian a rest.

Points: The Most Important Statistic

Sure, UNC has struggled to stop the run. Sure, while their defense has improved, it’s still not the most statistically dominating defense you’ll see. However, UNC does one thing really well (besides not allow big plays): they don’t give up very many points. Teams are scoring just 18.8 points per game against the Tar Heels. That ranks #20 in the country.

Special Teams

Here’s how UNC ranks in each special teams category, according to the FEI advanced stats on FootballOutsiders.com.

Field Goal Efficiency: #2
Punt Return Efficiency: #4
Kick Return Efficiency: #39
Punt Efficiency: #120
Kickoff Efficiency: #66
Opponents Field Goal Efficiency: #23
Overall: #13

On the whole, Carolina is excellent at special teams, though their punt team could use some work. However, Virginia Tech has been better on special teams this year, at least according to the FEI rankings.

Field Goal Efficiency: #10
Punt Return Efficiency: #28
Kick Return Efficiency: #57
Punt Efficiency: #8
Kickoff Efficiency: #85
Opponents Field Goal Efficiency: #39
Overall: #5

Virginia Tech’s rankings are slightly skewed because of the blocked punt returned for a touchdown against Purdue. That brings up punt return efficiency to #28 nationally when we all know that Greg Stroman hasn’t been doing particularly well. Still, Tech has been solid across the board on special teams this season. It’s certainly an improvement from two years ago.

Whoever grabs the special teams advantage in this game could turn out to be the winner. It’s imperative that the Hokies stop Ryan Switzer.

Mr. Utility

Speaking of Ryan Switzer (5-10, 185, Jr.), he’s capable of making an impact on the game in a number of ways. In the passing game, Switzer is the second leading receiver on the team with 36 catches for 539 yards (15 ypc) and four touchdowns. He can also be used on end-arounds, though the Tar Heels have only tried that a few times this season. In fact, he’s even thrown two passes this season.

He’ll put stress on Tech’s defense, but he’ll also put a lot of stress on the punt coverage team. He is averaging 16.4 yards per return this year, including two returns for touchdowns. He tied the NCAA record for career punt returns for touchdowns (7) against Miami this past weekend. He returned a punt for a touchdown against the Hokies back in 2013, but it was called back for an illegal block.

Here’s how Switzer has fared returning punts against the Hokies the last two seasons:

2013: 3 returns, 18 yards
2014: 6 returns, 7 yards, 1 lost fumble
Total: 9 returns, 25 yards, 1 lost fumble

Tech’s punt coverage team is having a great year, and they need to continue their past success against UNC’s dynamic return man.

Switzer grew up in Charleston, West Virginia. The Hokies recruited him, but didn’t offer. He ultimately chose UNC over Florida State, Duke, Georgia Tech, Northwestern, Penn State, West Virginia, and others. He is very familiar with Frank Beamer and the Virginia Tech program.

“I have nothing but respect for Coach Beamer,” Switzer said. “He recruited me coming out of high school (Editor’s note: VT did not offer Switzer a scholarship). Unfortunately I want him to take a loss his last game, but ultimately I have nothing but great respect for him, and he’s a really great guy.”

Final Thoughts

I really want to pick Virginia Tech to win this game. I certainly believe they can win it. The Hokies will be emotionally charged up, and Tech finds a way to beat the Tar Heels more times than not. Still, emotion will only take you so far. In the end, games come down to talent and execution. As former Virginia Tech quarterback and now Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians said recently, “Snotbubbles and tears don’t win [crap].”

What Bruce means is that you can lay it all on the line emotionally, but you still have to block, tackle, take advantage of turnovers, protect the ball, recognize blitzes, limit your penalties, and do all the other little things that win football games. The Hokies may have the emotional edge to start the game, but when it comes down to it they are going to have to out-execute North Carolina over 60 minutes of football. They haven’t been able to do that consistently this year.

Virginia Tech has played better the last two weeks. Nobody can deny that. However, you can’t also deny that those two wins came against two teams who are a combined 1-13 in conference play. In fact, Tech’s five wins have not been particularly impressive.

Furman: FCS opponent
Purdue: 2-8 overall, 1-5 Big Ten
NC State: 6-4 overall, 2-4 ACC
Boston College: 3-7 overall, 0-7 ACC
Georgia Tech: 3-7 overall, 1-6 ACC

The Hokies have only beaten one team with a winning record, and their three ACC wins have come over teams who have gone a combined 3-17 in the league.

The Tar Heels are way more talented than anyone Tech has beaten so far, especially these last two ACC opponents. Though I’d like to emotionally pick a Tech win in Frank Beamer’s last game, all the numbers shown in this article point towards a UNC victory.

Chris’ Prediction: North Carolina 30, Virginia Tech 24

Will Stewart’s Take: Hmmm. When faced with that preview and analysis, how do you pick the Hokies to win with a straight face? This is a pretty big mismatch, pitting a team in UNC that is hitting its stride, to say the least, against a team in the Hokies that … well, they mean well, but they make a lot of mistakes and don’t really have a big strength they can lean on.

This one’s going to be tough, folks. UNC’s got it going on, and the “explosive plays” matchup is a scary one, especially this first pair of stats:

  • UNC Offense Explosive Plays: #5
  • VT Defense Explosive Plays: #122
  • UNC Defense Explosive Plays: #1
  • VT Offense Explosive Plays: #117

That’s a recipe for disaster. But if you’re going to pick the Hokies to win, like I am, you just do it, because it’s Frank Beamer’s last home game, and I’m not picking VT to lose Frank’s last home game.

Will’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 27, UNC 24

Who will win the Virginia Tech-UNC game?

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16 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. All I know is that I’ll be there screaming louder than I have since the Miami game in 2003. More hyped to support CFB and the team than ever before. Go Hokies! We love you Frank!!

  2. Heels come in Cocky and score early (cause that what we do this year – D rope a dope) – yet go home losers! VT 27 – Tarholes 20

    GO HOKIES!
    GOD BLESS FRANK!

  3. Love My Hokies ! I hope this Team can Play lights out Saturday and Give Frank Beamer a victory in his last Home Game. I hope …but I think unCHEAT will spoil the day..

  4. Unfortunately I have seen nothing to make me feel that we belong on the same field with these guys. 45 – 17 U N Cheat.

    But it is certainly time for the team to get it together and play way above their heads. If not this week, then they will have only one more chance.

    We will be there and hope that this will be a crowd from the past, standing for every play. It just might make the difference.

  5. I am sorry everyone, but UNC has the Bud Foster kryptonite in the form of a big QB who can run the ball!! As bad as I would like to see CFB go out with a win in his last home game, I just can’t see it happening.

  6. We are good enough to I beat them if we play well. I hope we do. It would mean a helluva lot to coach and the players.

  7. The minute Metallica plays the first lick of Enter Sandman you can throw this preview out the window into the same dumpster as the “fedora is our next coach” theories. VT wins big on emotion. Book it.

  8. Obviously this one comes down to big plays…I think we get 1-2 ST/defensive scores (Beamerball one last time) and win it 34-31

  9. It’s just kind of surreal to think that Fedora could be coaching the next TWO games in Lane, yet be on different sidelines in each.

    I don’t realistically see a path to victory for VT here. Even last week, we got stoopid lucky w the turnovers and bonehead penalty by Joe.

    This could be ugly, depending on how Fedora wants to play it. If they go up 28-0, Marquis might suddenly come down with a stomach bug and check out of the game. If he’s still a semi-serious contender for Frank’s seat come Saturday, he’s not gonna want to totally crap all over VT fans.

    If VT plays its best game of the season, the crowd stays amped all game, and UNC is distracted, then I could see a score like UNC 30, VT 20. Otherwise, I fear it could be much, much worse (unless Fedora plays it sly, like I mentioned above).

  10. Great article as usual. I graduated a year after Beamer. I did not know him, but remember him as a noted player. [I played a lot of pickup B-ball in the practice gyms in the back of Cassel, so I came into contact with a lot of the football players in the offseason and of course, knew several of them from class. We played a lot of 2 on 2] So, it will be a special, but sad day for me. I was at the game in Chapel Hill last year, when they were carting off our running backs left and right, AND we still won handily! It is hard to believe that in one year UNC has become so dominant, however as we know in sports, anything can happen. So while I share Will’s enthusiasm, I understand the reality of it all. You know everyone on that team will be giving it their all, not only because they love their coach, but to say that they were on the team that sent Beamer out. What a great moment that would be! I know it sounds clichéish, but win one for the gipper.

  11. The crowd on Saturday can play a part if it’s loud enough to disrupt the UNC offense. It’s going to take a raucous crowd and some new wrinkles from Bud to discombobulate the UNC offense, but it’s not inconceivable. Go Hokies!

  12. Chris, solid information as always. I understand your prediction. But, I’ve got to go with Will, here.

    (Apologies in advance, for the following, since he has no doubt heard it, so many times.)

    Remember:

    Where there’s a Will, there’s a way. 🙂

    GO, HOKIES!! SEND BEAMER OUT WITH A BANG!!!

    #EnterSandman

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