(16) Virginia Tech (7-2) at North Carolina (6-3)
Saturday, November 13th, 3:30 p.m. (et)
From The Sports Network
By Gregg Xenakes, Associate College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: One of the hottest teams in the ACC at the moment, the 16th-ranked Virginia Tech Hokies seek their eighth straight win this weekend as they contend against the North Carolina Tar Heels in league action.
Virginia Tech had serious aspirations heading into the 2010 campaign, but a loss to Boise State right off the bat put those national championship title hopes on hold. Add to that a 21-16 loss to FCS foe James Madison and it was easy to see things unraveling in Blacksburg. But head coach Frank Beamer got his crew back on track and now, thanks to a 28-21 triumph over Georgia Tech last week, the Hokies have the fifth-longest win streak in the nation.
As for the Tar Heels, they too began this season with back-to-back losses, falling to both LSU and Georgia Tech by scores of 30-24 two weeks apart. Since then UNC has rebounded and taken two in a row and six of the last seven outings, including a 37-35 decision against Florida State on Saturday which gave the team the six wins it needs to become bowl eligible.
VaTech leads the all-time series, one that dates back to 1895, by a count of 16-10-6. However, after taking five straight from UNC the Hokies dropped a 20-17 meeting last year in Blacksburg.
It appeared as through VaTech's win streak was going to come to a crashing halt last week as the team went down 14-0 to the Yellow Jackets in the first quarter, but some second-half magic saved the day for the Hokies in the seven- point decision. Tyrod Taylor threw for 137 yards and a score while David Wilson and Ryan Williams both hit the end zone on run plays, but it was the 90-yard kickoff return for a TD by Wilson that put the hosts over the top. For his efforts Wilson was named the ACC's Specialist of the Week on Monday.
"When I first saw it [the ball] coming to me, I was excited because they had been avoiding me the whole game," Wilson said of his TD return. "They kicked one that I could return and I took advantage of it. Time was running out and we needed points."
The Virginia Tech pass defense dialed up the pressure on the Yellow Jackets and allowed just 80 yards, while sacking GaTech QBs three times. The 80 yards passing are the fewest by any VaTech opponent so far this year and in the last three games combined the squad has given up just 288 yards and a single TD through the air. Defensive lineman Bruce Taylor posted a pair of sacks and tallied a career-high 14 tackles as he was named the ACC's Offensive Lineman of the Week.
Even though Wilson, who will miss this week's game due to mononucleosis, was the star of the show on offense and special teams for the Hokies last week, the biggest threat continues to be Taylor who always has the potential to create something out of nothing. Not only has the signal-caller thrown for more than 1,700 yards and 16 TDs, against just four interceptions, he leads the squad in rushing with 584 yards. However, not to be ignored is Darren Evans who is right behind Taylor with his 515 yards and has logged a team-best nine rushing TDs. Altogether the Hokies have hit the end zone 21 times on the ground, their rushing attack ranked 18th in the country with 212.9 ypg.
From a defensive standpoint, the pass defense for the Hokies is standing tall with just 187 ypg allowed, ranking them third in the ACC and 22nd in the country right now. More importantly, the group has a pass defense efficiency rating of 103.16, second in the league and eight in the nation at the moment. Virginia Tech will need that pass defense to stand tall this weekend after what T.J. Yates did to the Seminoles last week through the air.
Yates survived five sacks as he completed 24-of-35 passes for a school-record 439 yards and three touchdowns, on his way to being named the ACC Offensive Back of the Week on Monday. Dwight Jones looked like a superstar receiver as he reeled in eight balls for a staggering 233 yards and a score for the squad in their narrow win over FSU on the road. For Jones it was his third career 100-yard game, with all of them coming in the last four games.
Jones has exploded onto the scene for the Tar Heels after having just 21 career receiving yards coming into the 2010 campaign, he now owns two of the top six receiving efforts in the history of the program. With close to 80 ypg, Jones is now third in the conference in that department.
Yates, who will be making his 41st start for UNC on Saturday, is the first player in school history to have two games of at least 400 passing yards and, having thrown for 412 yards in the season opener against LSU, Yates has the top two passing efforts in the ACC in 2010 as well.
Unfortunately, as well as the passing attack has performed this season for the Tar Heels, the squad is still struggling with a disappointing rushing attack that is now 11th in the conference and 93rd nationally with just 124.2 ypg. Some of that has to do with the fact that Yates has been so proficient, but at some point the squad will need to demonstrate that it can move the ball effectively on the ground.
The defense for the Tar Heels has been a bit of a mixed bag for the squad this year, but overall the pass defense has held foes to less than 200 ypg and that has the group ranked sixth in the ACC and 35th nationally right now. Putting pressure on quarterbacks has been the job of Quinton Coples who, after recording a sack versus Florida State, now has 6.5 on the season and also leads the team with 12 tackles for loss as well.
It may be a road game for the Hokies, but as long as Taylor can maintain possession of the ball and the visitors can eat up the clock they'll have a great shot at pulling off the victory. Keeping the ball away from Yates will be key to VaTech's level of success.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Virginia Tech 31, North Carolina 24
11/10 10:58:04 ET