Keys to the Game and Matchups to Watch: UNC

The ACC season opens for Virginia Tech as the Tar Heels of North Carolina
challenge the Hokies in Lane Stadium at noon this Saturday. Butch Davis arrives
in Chapel Hill with a great deal of fanfare, but the talent level at UNC does
not come close to resembling his Miami teams. Virginia Tech still has quite a
few questions to be answered this season, but North Carolina has even more. So,
what should we expect this Saturday?

North Carolina is the least experienced team in the ACC with only four
starters on offense having started at least half of their games last year and
only three starters on defense starting in 2006. While UNC has some quality
young talent, particularly in this year’s freshman class, the youth has shown
with numerous mistakes and missed assignments early in the season. Butch Davis
has the Tar Heels playing hard, but the lack of experienced talent will likely
lead to a long season for UNC fans.

Virginia Tech simply needs to execute, play hard, and not make mistakes to
handle the Tar Heels. The Hokies have too much talent top-to-bottom for UNC to
stay competitive, but anything can happen on any given Saturday. The Hokies are
similar to South Florida in terms of offensive and defensive philosophy, and the
Bulls easily handled the Heels 37-10. UVA dominated most of the game with UNC,
but the Hoos failed to get the ball in the end zone settling for five field
goals and North Carolina almost pulled off the upset. East Carolina had a
shoot-out with the Tar Heels winning on a late field goal 34-31, but the Pirates
probably should have put that game away earlier. The only win for the Heels this
year was a 37-14 pasting of James Madison.

When playing young teams, the strategy has to be to jump on them early and
discourage the younger players. The Hokies got off to a fast start last week
against out-manned William & Mary, and I would expect Tech to come out
aggressively in all aspects of the game against UNC. Look for Foster try to
force some turnovers early; look for Beamer to try to make a big play on special
teams early; and look for Stinespring to come out aggressively on offense to
make a big play early.

Keys to the Game

When Virginia Tech has the Ball:

1. Establish the Pass to Set Up the Run

Hokies continue to struggle running the ball, so Tech may come out throwing the
ball right off the bat in the hopes of opening up the running attack later in
the game. UNC has little returning experience in the secondary with their top
player being strong safety Trimaine Goddard. Goddard missed last year with a
broken foot, but he started 6 games in 2005. The other starters in the secondary
had never started a college game before this year.

The cornerbacks, in particular, are inexperienced. Kendric Burney is a
redshirt-freshman with excellent athletic ability, but little size (5-9 180),
and Kendric Williams is a senior who was a walk-on running back for the majority
of his career. UVA picked on Burney with their bigger receivers with some
success. Deunta Williams is another redshirt-freshman with potential, but he is
still learning.

Normally, Butch Davis teams will play man-to-man coverage for the majority of
the time, but due to personnel limitations, the Heels are playing quite a bit of
zone this year. The Hokies will certainly look to exploit man-to-man
opportunities and Brian Stinespring will likely attack the zones as well, even
with a freshman quarterback. Actually, going against UNC’s inexperienced
secondary will likely open up many opportunities for Tyrod Taylor to have some
success and gain valuable experience.

I foresee Taylor having a big game against the Tar Heels. Typically, the
offensive game plan would be conservative with a freshman quarterback and the
obvious difference in talent levels. However, Tech needs to get Taylor as much
experience as possible before traveling to Clemson next week, so I see
Stinespring opening up the offense early in the game. Also, UNC lacks playmakers
in the secondary with only two interceptions in the first four games — one by
Goddard and the other by Deunta Williams. In the last six years, UNC’s secondary
only has 28 interceptions.

2. Confuse the Defensive Front

Butch Davis’ defensive philosophy has always been to attack on defense