The Virginia Tech Hokies will open their ACC road schedule this Saturday as they travel to Chapel Hill to lock horns with the North Carolina Tar Heels.
Hokie fans know this season is anything but a sure recipe and the Tar Heels have some of their own ingredients that they’d like to add. It seems to be the case every year as three of the last four meetings between these schools has been decided by a field goal, including last year when Tech barely escaped UNC in Lane Stadium, 24-21.
Head coach Frank Beamer knows what to expect going into Chapel Hill.
“[They’re] a really good football team, and a hot football team,” Beamer said. “I think they’re playing really well right now too, so we’ve got our work cut out for us.”
The surging UNC team boasts some pretty good statistics of their own as they’ll look to put up another stingy defensive performance. The Tar Heels have dealt two shutouts this season, a 62-0 pounding of Elon and last week’s 66-0 shellacking of Idaho; furthermore, they haven’t allowed a touchdown in ten quarters.
However, UNC did drop two close higher-scoring games in September to Wake Forest (28-27), and Louisville (39-34); so you’d be right to think that their ranking may be a bit padded due to those shutouts of lesser competition.
But the Hokies haven’t been impressing anyone on offense and their excruciatingly slow starts with the ball have them ranked No. 85 nationally in total offense and No. 10 in the ACC. Consequently, Tech is going to have to hope that their second half offense that showed up against Cincinnati carries over this week, or they’re going to have a very long day.
Wide receiver Marcus Davis knows what the biggest problem is concerning the Hokies’ trend of slow starts.
“I think it’s a lack of energy out there,” Davis said. “I think as an offense, we’ve got to come out firing on all cylinders. We’ve got to pick it up from the start. Instead of waiting for something to happen, we’ve got to make some happen ourselves. That’s the biggest problem I see.”
Head coach Frank Beamer acknowledged the slow-start issues of the offense.
“We talked in great detail as an offensive staff about starting slow and why and so forth,” Beamer said. “And hopefully we’ll be better at that this week.”
But Coach Beamer is refusing to show his hand with regards to fixing those problems.
“We’re going to keep it within our staff,” Beamer said.
But problems aren’t only on offense as the Hokies find themselves in the unusual position of having a struggling offense as well as a struggling defense in the same year.
The defense will have their hands full against first-year head coach Larry Fedora’s up-tempo spread offense, which is ranked 32nd nationally in total offense, including No. 12 in points-for and No. 23 in passing yards per game.
Quarterbacking for UNC is Bryn Renner, who played against the Hokies last year, throwing for 224 yards and a touchdown. Renner is looking to improve upon that performance this season as he is averaging more than 284 yards per game through the air for a 64 percent completion rate and has 14 touchdowns versus four interceptions despite the increased tempo on offense.
The Tar Heel ground attack will come in the form of running back Giovani Bernard, who rushed for 1,253 yards last season with 13 touchdowns and also tacked on another 362 yards through receiving. Bernard is considered the best back in the ACC, but his statistics have been hampered this year by a knee injury that has kept him out of two games; however, he did get two carries in last week’s game against Idaho and scored on both of them.
Coach Beamer and his coaching staff will surely be reminding their players before the game this Saturday that they are still in the hunt for the ACC championship and that is enough to play for.
“Well, the facts are this: We’re one up in ACC play,” Beamer said. “I guess a couple people are tied with us, but we’re going to end up playing them, so we control that part of it.”
Tech claims to have control of the division, but a loss on Saturday would certainly change that.