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North Carolina (4-3) at (14) Virginia Tech (5-2)
Thursday, October 29th, 7:30 p.m. (et)
The Sports Network
By Pat Taggart, Associate College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: The North Carolina Tar Heels have the unenviable task of playing the 14th-ranked Virginia Tech Hokies under the lights in Blacksburg on Thursday night. Virginia Tech owns a 16-9-6 series advantage over North Carolina, which includes five straight wins over the Tar Heels.
This is the second consecutive Thursday night game for North Carolina. Last week, the Heels jumped out to a 17-3 lead over Florida State, only to fall by a 30-27 final in front of a heart-broken home crowd. UNC got off to a promising 3-0 start to the campaign, but the team is now 4-3 overall, including a bitterly disappointing 0-3 in ACC play.
Virginia Tech opened the season with a tough loss to Alabama before running off five consecutive victories. That winning streak came to an end last time out, however, as the Hokies fell to Georgia Tech by a 28-23 final on the road. They have had almost two full weeks to prepare for this affair, so expect a fresh group for coach Frank Beamer.
"I told our team that I was proud of our effort," said Beamer after the tough loss to Georgia Tech. "It wasn't for a lack of effort or not caring. Now we just need to come back and get the next one. There�s a lot of football left to be played. We just need to get back, think about the next one and go get it."
North Carolina is a mediocre offensive team at best, as the club is averaging a mere 23.1 ppg and 289.4 total ypg. The Tar Heels average just 3.6 yards per rushing attempt and 9.9 yards per pass completion, so there is room for improvement in both aspects of the game. There are some obvious shortcomings for the offense, as it has made good on only 30 percent of its third down conversion attempts. Also, 17 turnovers have hurt the cause to say the least.
T.J. Yates is the team's starting quarterback, and he has connected on 59 percent of his passes for 1,028 yards and seven touchdowns with eight interceptions. Greg Little leads the club with 33 catches, but the fact that those connections have resulted in just 290 yards and one touchdown suggest that Little is more of a possession receiver than a vertical threat. Shaun Draughn leads the ground attack with 481 yards, while Ryan Houston, who has just 221 yards, has seven touchdowns.
Opponents are scoring only 16.4 ppg against North Carolina, which is permitting a mere 266.3 total ypg. The Tar Heels are limiting foes to 102.6 rushing ypg at a clip of 2.8 yards per carry. They have been terrific against the pass as well, holding foes to 9.0 yards per completion with only four passing scores and eight interceptions. Robert Quinn is a big-time player for the Heels, as he has 11 TFLs, of which seven have been sacks.
Against Florida State last weekend, North Carolina finished with 333 total yards and three offensive touchdowns. The Heels ran the ball for 238 yards and two scores on 41 attempts, and Draughn led the charge with 126 yards on 23 totes. As for Yates, he struggled under center, completing a mere 12-of-25 passes for 64 yards and one touchdown with one interception.
The Tar Heels played tremendous defense early on against FSU last week, but things seemed to fall apart in the second half. Overall, UNC permitted 438 yards, including 395 passing yards on 33-of-40 completions. Sure, the Heels had a pair of sacks and an interception, but those big plays were overshadowed by an otherwise shaky effort.
"We looked at this game as though it could have been the turning point in our season," said defensive end E.J. Wilson. "But we lost, and we're not going to let this ruin our season. It's one loss."
"It's either you stand up to the challenge or you back down," added cornerback Kendric Burney. "I definitely know that me and my teammates are going to stand up to the challenge. I will never let anybody on this team quit and I definitely am looking ready to next week."
Virginia Tech is scoring 32.6 ppg this season while posting 380.0 total ypg. With 25 offensive touchdown in seven outings, quarterback Tyrod Taylor and company have certainly got the job done. Taylor is a much improved player who has become a much more than just a runner. He has completed 57.6 percent of his passes for 1,154 yards and nine touchdowns with only three interceptions, deferring to star freshman tailback Ryan Williams to handle the rushing duties. Williams has racked up 834 yards and 10 touchdowns while posting 6.0 yards per carry. Jarrett Boykin paces the receivers with 21 grabs for 367 yards and three scores.
As is usually the case, Virginia Tech has been a strong defensive team this season. The Hokies are allowing 19.1 ppg this season to go along with 317.4 total ypg, solid numbers by most standards. While it is a bit concerning that the club is allowing 13.8 yards per pass completion, the fact that it has permitted a mere 85-of-193 passes to be completed is certainly impressive. Barquell Rivers leads Tech in tackles with 59, and Cody Grimm has forced three fumbles. As for Rashad Carmichael, he has registered three interceptions.
In the disappointing loss to Georgia Tech last time out, Taylor was limited to 159 passing yards and one touchdown pass with a pair of costly interceptions. Taylor did rush for 63 yards and a score, while Williams added 100 yards and a touchdown, but the offense couldn't do enough to claim the road victory.
Georgia Tech relies almost entirely on its ground attack to move the ball and score points, and while the Hokies knew that going into the clash, they simply couldn't stop the Yellow Jackets. Beamer watched on as his defense was shredded for 309 rushing yards and four touchdowns on 63 carries.
"I think you have to give Georgia Tech credit," Beamer said. "They gave great effort and they played fast, and their quarterback did a great job."
Virginia Tech will bounce back strong from the loss to Georgia Tech by beating North Carolina soundly. Williams will be too much for UNC to handle, as he has five 100-yard rushing efforts this season, a Tech freshman record.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Virginia Tech 34, North Carolina 17
10/28 10:36:13 ET