Three Reasons Why Virginia Tech Could Beat North Carolina
Virginia Tech will travel to the research triangle of North Carolina for the second straight weekend to take on the undefeated Tar Heels. Both of these teams have their sights on an ACC championship appearance. Though both teams have been in some closer games, this is likely each team’s first real test to determine their status in a packed ACC this year.
There are way too many speculative variables surrounding this game: weather, player availability, who is playing QB for Tech. What is not up for debate is that if these three factors come to fruition the Hokies will emerge victorious this week against UNC.
1. Virginia Tech is able to contain Sam Howell and the passing attack.
Sam Howell is the real deal. He may have gotten off to a slower start this year with only 3 TDs, but a game like this feels a little bit too much like a coming out party for him. Virginia Tech survived a Chase Brice lead passing attack last week at Duke with their top 4 DBs on the pine. This offense is a step up and this QB is of a higher caliber.
Beau Corrales, Dyami Brown and Dazz Newsome all present their own unique skill set. Brice threw a few decent deep balls in the game last week and we can expect Howell to test the DBs early and often really no matter who is in there. If there is a good news for the Hokies secondary it is that Sam Howell has not been efficient in the deep passing game as of yet this year.
UNC likes to get their talented backs involved in the passing game too so the linebackers will be called upon to cover out of the backfield. Tisdale and Connor are proven commodities, so if they are available to play that concern is belittled. If the Hokies hold Sam Howell under 250 yards in the air, they can score enough points to win this one. He is averaging 260 yards in his two games thus far both against lesser ACC opponents in BC and Syracuse.
Containing the passing attack doesn’t just involve our secondary. The pressure up front will be key here to limiting Howell’s ability to sling it. Reed and Belmar both look like matchup problems for any O-line and they need to force some errant throws for our secondary to have success especially if the Hokies have starters out at DB and safety.
2. Virginia Tech shows a competent air attack
On the other side of the coin is Virginia Tech’s passing game. It has not been a prominent factor in either of the Hokies first 2 games. They are 2-0 from the ground game and being able to produce chunk plays there. UNC has allowed only 9 first downs from running plays and a total of 169 yards total on the ground. This defense is going to be keying in on the run attack. Herbert has shown a great ability and talent as a back, but if UNC loads the box it will be hard for him to get going.
Burmeister is 2-0 and he has done a great job catalyzing the run game to an unprecedented start. The game plan for the UNC defense has to be to limit that run attack. Virginia Tech will be forced to pivot to the passing game, and they need to win in the air in this one. Burmeister has made some solid throws through windows but the interception before the half against Duke was concerning and he frankly got lucky a few other throws didn’t get picked. Another speculative factor in this one is who do we see behind center for Tech. Hendon Hooker is apparently a “full go” and fans know his ability to throw it. Hooker showed that ability last year and he has now had almost two full weeks to get back in to the flow of the offense and has had time to game plan for the Heels.
The weapons in the passing game are there with Robinson, Turner and Mitchell all capable of big plays and all presenting matchup issues for a limited secondary for the Heels. UNC is down their top 3 DBs for this game and we know that coming in. Hooker or Burmeister will need to find a rhythm in this one for the Hokies to come out on top.
3. The Hokies protect the ball
The three turnovers against Duke were THE reason why it was only a 7-point game in the end. The muffed punt in the opening quarter gifted Duke an early touchdown, the interception before the half prevented a potential FG attempt for the Hokies and the fumble deep in Blue Devil territory stymied the Hokies from putting the game to bed. The defense answered the call by preventing Duke from moving the ball at all after that fumble, but UNC will take advantage of those turnovers if they come as freely as they did last week.
Justin Fuente is the ball security guru. He will be preaching that mantra this week in the lead up and that will need to be an improvement for the Hokies to win. Playing into speculation, the weather is looking less than optimal, which presents its own challenges to not giving the ball away. The turnover tally is huge in any game, but the Hokies will need to win that this week to come away with a W.
This is going to be a battle. I don’t expect either team to run away with this one and in close games there are razor thin margins, and if the Hokies are going to tilt it their way look for it to be because of these three reasons.