North Carolina (9-1) vs. Virginia Tech (5-5) 3:30 pm
North Carolina has won 9 straight games since their week one loss to South Carolina 16-13. The Tar Heels have won their last two games and have averaged 62.5 points per game in both wins (Duke and Miami). North Carolina has won 7 games at home this year by an average margin of 31.7 points per game. The Tar Heels two road victories have come by an average of 7 points per game (Georgia Tech and Pitt). Since 2010, Virginia Tech is 4-1 against the Tar Heels and have won by an average margin of 11.5 points per game. Last year, the Hokies won 34-17 in Chapel Hill. Virginia Tech has won two straight heading into this game.
North Carolina has been an offensive machine this season averaging 42 points per game and seems to be getting stronger as the season progresses. The Tar Heels are balanced rushing for 214 yards per game and passing for 280 yards per game. Led by quarterback Marquise Williams, who is completing 66.2% of his passes for 2,222 yards with 16 touchdowns and 7 interceptions, the offense can put pressure on any defense. Williams has made solid decisions in the passing game and his ability to break contain and keep his eyes down the field is his strongest asset as a quarterback. Wide receivers Mack Hollins and Ryan Switzer have had more of a role in the passing game over the past four weeks. Both players have combined for 58 receptions for 1,124 yards with 11 touchdowns and have the speed too take the top off of the defense. North Carolina has the ability to spread out Virginia Tech which could open up the running lanes for running back Elijah Hood. Hood leads the team with 945 yards averaging 6.1 yards per carry with 12 touchdowns and is a tough runner that has great vision in spotting creases in the defense. North Carolina will want to put the pressure on the Virginia Tech offense and try to jump out early playing on the road in Blacksburg. The Tar Heels have done an excellent job in converting their third down opportunities to keep drives alive and are converting 49% of the time on third down situations. The key to the victory will be the offensive line and if they can give Hood running lanes early on. The weakness of the Hokies defense has been in run support this season and the Tar Heels must be able to run the football to keep the pressure off of their offensive line.
The Tar Heels have made a complete 360 degree turnaround from a year ago. Last year, the unit was one off the worst statistical defenses in college football allowing 39 points per game with giving up 498 total yards per game (240 rush, 257 pass). However, the addition of new defensive coordinator Gene Chizek has allowed the defense to play a bend but don’t break type of philosophy that has allowed the team to win nine straight games. This year, the unit is allowing 18.8 points per game and is yielding 382 total yards per game (206 rush, 176 pass). More importantly, the unit has been very opportunistic and is +11 in turnover margin compared to last season with an even margin. A cause of concern entering this game would be the fact that the team is +11 in turnover margin at home and even on the road this year. On the year, the Tar Heels have 14 sacks through the first ten games and will need to get pressure on Hokies quarterback Michael Brewer. North Carolina is allowing opponents to convert on 41% of their third down opportunities.
The Hokies have been playing more consistent on the offensive side of the ball the last few weeks and will need a solid effort on Saturday to get the upset home win. The team is averaging 29.8 points per game and is rushing for 162 yards per game along with passing for 208 yards per game. Quarterback Michael Brewer has shown poise and confidence in the pocket upon returning from a week one shoulder injury suffered against Ohio State. Brewer is completing 59.1% of his passes for 849 yards with 8 touchdowns and 3 interceptions but has the ability to stretch the Tar Heels secondary vertically on Saturday. The Hokies can create mismatch problems for North Carolina with the size of tight ends Ryan Malleck and Bucky Hodges. Both players are 6’6 and 6’5 respectively which forces teams to cover them with nickel backs or linebackers. Both players have combined for 44 receptions for 618 yards with 7 touchdowns and open up the underneath routes for wide receivers Isiah Ford and Cam Phillips (89 combined receptions for 1,166 yards with 10 TD’s). Virginia Tech can put pressure on the deep middle of the Tar Heels defense which will open up the running game for running back Travon McMillan. Look for the Hokies to challenge the middle of the Tar Heels defense with McMillan, who leads the team with 800 rushing yards averaging 5.5 yards per carry with 5 scores.
The Hokies are allowing 24 points per game and will need to get pressure on Williams early on to disrupt the timing of the Tar Heels offense. The unit has solid defensive lineman in Dadi Nicholas and Luther Maddy that can penetrate the Tar Heels offensive line and allow the Hokies linebacker to fill running lanes. Virginia Tech is giving up 165 rushing yards per game and is surrendering 170 passing yards per game. Virginia Tech will need to win the turnover battle at home to give their offense field position. On the year, the team is +5 in turnover margin and over the last two games has forced 7 turnovers (6 fumbles, 1 interception). The defense has recorded 19 sacks and must be able to keep Williams inside the pocket and force him into quick throws underneath coverage. Defensive back Chuck Clark is having an excellent season and leads the team with 78 total tackles.
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Joseph Lisi a former ABC Sports college football researcher, is the owner of www.GOFORTHE2.COM. He is a member if the FWAA (Football Writers Association Of America),Maxwell Football Club and is currently the content editor at www.2FiveSports.com.He contributes regularly to www.Sid-Rosenberg.com and has been a featured guest every Tuesday night from 10:30-11:30pm EST on Yahoo Sports Radio With Ken Thomson(www.sportsxradio.com).
Joe has been featured on the FNTSY Sports Network and The Sid Rosenberg Sports Radio Show 640AM Sports (South Florida). You can follow him on Twitter: @Goforthe2.
Joe has a weekly radio show on www.blogtalkradio.com with former Georgia Bulldogs WR Corey Allen called: