UNC-Virginia Tech preview: Heels face defining road test | Sports

UNC-Virginia Tech preview: Heels face defining road test

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North Carolina (4-3) at No. 14 Virginia Tech (5-2)

[7:30 p.m., Oct. 29, Lane Stadium]

Televised by ESPN

UNC faces a completely different style quarterback Thursday than FSU's Christian Ponder.  (Photo by Rob Rowe)
  • UNC faces a completely different style quarterback Thursday than FSU's Christian Ponder. (Photo by Rob Rowe)

Another Thursday night game, but this time North Carolina travels to Blacksburg to face an angry and bitter Virginia Tech team looking to stay in the Coastal Division race.

The past few games between these two schools have been closer than expected.  An injury to UNC quarterback T.J. Yates cost the Heels the victory in 2008, and the season before the Heels lost by a touchdown despite outgaining the nationally ranked Hokies.

Key stats: 2001 -- that's the last time UNC won a road game against a ranked opponent, and the prospect of ending that streak Thursday night in Blacksburg looks slim.

Despite the poor second-half performance against the Seminoles, some are pegging UNC's defense as the key for victory.  Statistics back up the defense, but last Thursday showed that talented skill players and patient quarterbacks can pick apart Butch Davis' secondary.

And Virginia Tech is no slouch on defense either.  The Hokies allow more than 317 yards per game (No. 31 in the nation) and played a tougher first seven games than UNC did.

Another key aspect of this game is preparation.  The Hokies had a bye week to prepare for UNC just like Georgia Tech, Virginia and Florida State  did.  It's no coincidence that UNC is 0-3 in league play with such  terrible ACC scheduling.

Best message board tidbit on the game: InfiniteFury from InsideCarolina.com wrote: A win would erase all of the painful losses of the past 3 years. We will not win.

All the bells and whistles Davis advertised upon arriving in Chapel Hill will not buy him another several seasons of mediocrity.

In journalism school, we are taught to be balanced.  Unfortunately, I could not find one thread discussing the UNC-Tech game on VTInsider.com.  Think the Hokies are overlooking the Tar Heels, too?

UNC will win if ... Yates joins the running game in progressing from the horrible string of ACC performances.  Yates threw eight picks in the first seven games -- twice as many through this point in 2008.

Much of the Hokies' offense relies on running the ball, and UNC's SEC-caliber defense will make Hokie quarterback Tyrod Taylor earn first downs through the air.  If Carolina can put enough pressure on Taylor and force a few interceptions like last year's game, then the Heels could be in store for a huge win.

Virginia Tech will win if ... Taylor takes care of the ball and completes enough passes to keep the defense honest.

If the Hokies avoid turnovers, the less-talented Carolina squad won't be able to keep up with the Virginia Tech skill players.

What people are saying about the game: Davis on freshman running back Ryan Williams and the Hokies' offense:  "You can’t just focus on Tyrod Taylor. You can’t just focus on the wide receivers. Now, with a really outstanding running back, it makes them a lot more multi-dimensional and it makes you play a lot more honestly.”

Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer fake quote of the week:  "Now if only the refs weren't paid off by Paul Johnson, we'd still be talking national championship ... er, what's that?  Oh, we play North Caroline this week?"

Vegas line (5-2): Virginia Tech (-17)

My prediction (5-2): The Hokies have won 15 out of their last 19 Thursday night games, and Blacksburg will be rocking to pick up any hangover that might be felt for both teams.

The Hokies are the more complete team with a dynamic quarterback and a talented freshman running back, who could reach 1000-yards rushing with a big performance.

No matter what the coaches and the players have said this week, UNC needs a season-defining victory and this is that game.  If UNC falls to .500, reaching a bowl would be a miracle.  If UNC loses ugly, Chapel Hill won't be a pleasant place for Davis for the rest of the season unless he beats Duke and N.C. State.

The atmosphere, the talent level and the inconsistent play make it impossible to pick the Heels in this one.  Expect a big performance by the Hokies' special teams and defense, which will be the difference in this one.

Virginia Tech 27, UNC 17

NCAA Football 10 simulation score (4-3): UNC 13, Virginia Tech 10

UNC key performance:  Linebacker Bruce Carter, 11 tackles, one sack, one interception

Virginia Tech key performance:  Running back Ryan Williams, 24 carries, 101 yards, one touchdown

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