by Sharon Thorsland
Well, North Carolina had its first big test of the season last week and failed miserably, getting hammered by Notre Dame at home. As usual, it was a great lack of defense that plagued the Tar Heels (3-1), who gave up 576 yards of total offense and 45 points in the game. They’re looking to bounce back on Saturday when they take on Virginia Tech at Kenan Stadium, kick-off is set for 3:30 on WBT. The Hokies are 2-2 on the year and coming off a big loss to West Virginia.
Weather will almost certainly play a role in this game as the remnants of Hurricane Ian move across the state. But playing in tropical storm conditions is nothing new to these teams – they’ve done it before, playing through a monsoon in 2016. In that one UNC couldn’t run the ball or stop the run and lost in sloppy fashion to the Hokies 34-3. Six years later those same issues could plague the Tar Heels once again.
The good news is that Virginia Tech is struggling offensively this season, they rank near the bottom of the barrel when it comes to total offense, averaging just 330 yards and 20 points a game. That’s music to UNC’s ears as the Tar Heels rank 126th in the country in total defense allowing 495 yards and nearly 40 points a contest.
Hokies are led by quarterback Grant Wells. The Marshall transfer has been inconsistent throwing five touchdowns and five interceptions. Wells has some talented receivers, including big play threat Caleb Smith and tight end Nick Gallo, but he still hasn’t been able to do much to get the passing game going. The Hokies have a solid running back in Keshawn King, the junior has picked up 179 rushing yards in the three games he’s played. But he and the Hokies couldn’t get anything going against the Mountaineers last week, managing just 35 yards on the ground. Of course they’re probably licking their lips looking at UNC’s defensive stats – the Tar Heels give up over 216 rushing yards per game.
On the flip side, the Hokies defense has been outstanding, they rank 10th in the nation allowing just 256 total yards a game Star linebacker Dax Hollifield teams with defensive end TyJuan Garbutt to anchor a solid front seven. They’ll face a talented UNC teams that ranks 8th in scoring offense averaging 47 points a game, but struggled to run the ball against ND, managing just 66 yards on the ground. Quarterback Drake Maye was one of the only bright spots in the loss, tossing five touchdowns with no interceptions. Receiver Josh Downs came up big in his season debut, but freshman running back Omarion Hampton will have to step up Saturday for the Heels to have any chance to beat the Hokies.
On paper it looks like this one should go UNC’s way if the Tar Heels could just play a little defense. But the Hokies seems to have UNC’s number, they’ve won five of the last six match-ups, including the monsoon game in Chapel Hill in 2016. UNC is due for a win in this rivalry, and it should start Saturday. Go Tar Heels!