If you could take one positive out of two early-season non-conference losses, it’s that the ACC title is still well within reach for Virginia Tech.
That being said, Saturday’s matchup with North Carolina is absolutely a must-win.
The Hokies have struggled mightily on offense as of late, as they picked up just two first downs in the first half of last week’s 27-24 loss at the hands of Cincinnati.
The defense has been good, but not great, as expected. But they can only be expected to do so much when they’re on the field for almost 40 minutes in a game.
This Carolina team is two scores away from being 5-0. Make no mistake about it — they are very, very dangerous. The Hokies will simply have to play better if they want to remain undefeated in the ACC.
Here’s why I’m afraid of North Carolina:
The junior gunslinger has already thrown for 14 touchdowns on the young season and will look to add to that Saturday. Renner likes to spread the ball around, and has the weapons that enable him to do just that. Receivers Erik Highsmith, Sean Tapley and Quinshad Davis — along with tight end Eric Ebron — each have at least 210 receiving yards on the season. With the way Tech’s secondary struggled last week against a guy like Munchie Legaux, Renner might be poised for a big day Saturday.
THE GROUND GAME
As if Renner’s threats on the outside weren’t enough, he’s got plenty more in the backfield. A.J. Blue, Romar Morris and Giovanni Bernard have all run for 200 yards so far this season, as well as nine touchdowns combined. Not to mention that Bernard, who ran for 1,253 yards last season, didn’t play in Carolina’s two losses. The Hokies have been pretty stout against the run thus far this season — they’ll have to continue to do so to have a chance on Saturday.
The 305-pound defensive tackle ranks third in the ACC in both sacks (4.5) and tackles for loss (7.0). Williams has been a solid force in the middle for the Tar Heels, helping them to hold opponents to just 95.6 yards per game on the ground, good for No. 17 in the nation. If Tech wants to have success running the football, the guard rotation of Michael Via, Brent Benedict, Matt Arkema and (maybe) Davis Wang will have to handle Williams.
I mentioned last week that Tech would win if they could get off to a good start on offense, which didn’t exactly pan out — the Hokies didn’t pick up a first down until almost 25 minutes into the game. So, just for posterity’s sake, I’ll say it again this week: if Tech is going to win this game, it has got to be able to move the ball early in the game. If not, they might be in store for another heartbreaker.
I can’t say with complete confidence that the Hokies are going to pull this one out. But, there are still plenty of reasons to think they will. Here’s why I’m not afraid of the Tar Heels:
The key word here being potential. Tech has the all the tools necessary to be respectable offensively, it just hasn’t put everything together at the same time. Logan Thomas has showed flashes of greatness in the past. Michael Holmes, J.C. Coleman, Tony Gregory and even Martin Scales have all proven that they can run the football effectively. Nearly every wide receiver has big-play capability and the offensive line showed last week in the second half that it can open holes for the backs and provide protection for Thomas. Put all that together at one time and you’ve got yourself an ACC title contender.
The junior defensive tackle has been one of the most consistent performers for Bud Foster’s defense the past two seasons, and he’ll play a key role in disrupting the flow of Carolina’s rushing attack. Hopkins is one of those guys who’s motor never stops running, an example the rest of the defense would be wise to follow.