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North Carolina (6-4) at (9) Virginia Tech (9-1)
Thursday, November 17th, 8:00 p.m. (et)
The Sports Network
By Scott Haynes, Senior College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: In the driver's seat in the ACC's Coastal Division, the ninth-ranked Virginia Tech Hokies head down the homestretch, starting with Thursday's showdown with the North Carolina Tar Heels in Blacksburg.
A model of consistency, Frank Beamer's Hokies have posted seven straight 10- win seasons and will have their eighth with a win this week or in the season- finale at Virginia next week. Tech moved one step closer to a divisional crown with last week's 37-26 victory at Georgia Tech. The win was the school's fifth straight since its lone loss to Clemson (23-3).
The Tar Heels were a team in turmoil during the summer, as UNC lost its head coach and awaits NCAA sanctions. On the field however, interim coach Everett Withers has led the Heels to bowl eligibility with six wins, although the ACC hasn't been as kind at just 2-4. UNC enters this contest off its worst outing of the year, a 13-0 shutout at the hands of rival NC State.
This is the 34th meeting in this series, with the Hokies holding a 17-10-6 series advantage. With a 26-10 win in Chapel Hill last season, Virginia Tech has now won six of the seven meetings in ACC play.
The Tar Heels were idle last weekend and have had extra time to work on the offensive woes the team suffered at NC State. The offense has been much more effective on the year. Sophomore QB Bryn Renner has been solid for the most part and leads the ACC in pass efficiency, ranking ninth nationally at 164.7. He has completed 71.4 percent of this throws, for 2,271 yards and 19 TDs. Renner's top target is wideout Dwight Jones, who is vying for All-ACC honors, with 63 receptions, for 913 yards and eight TDs.
The ground game has been stabilized with the emergence of freshman tailback Giovani Bernard, who has rushed for 1,012 yards and 11 TDs thus far.
The North Carolina defense has struggled with consistency this season and the result is a team allowing 23.7 ppg and is vulnerable to the pass (248.1 ypg).
The Tar Heels are led on defense by linebacker Zach Brown, who is having a monster season thus far, with 71 total tackles, 9.5 TFLs, 5.5 sacks, two INTs, one fumble recovery and three forced fumbles. Defensive end Quinton Coples (37 tackles, 7.5 TFLs, 4.5 sacks) must be accounted for up front, despite modest numbers this season.
The Hokies seem to be gaining confidence on the offensive side of the ball as the season winds down. The team is still a run-first squad and Tech does it well, churning out 206.9 yards per game on 4.8 yards per carry. Doak Walker Award semifinalist David Wilson spearheads that attack, leading the nation in rushing yards (1,360) and ranking third in rushing per game (136.0 ypg).
Wilson is confident in his abilities and those of his teammates.
"We've got great running backs, and a good quarterback who can use his feet. With the offensive linemen doing their job...when we put it all together, we get a victory."
Quarterback Logan Thomas has emerged as a real star under center for Tech this season. The 6-6 sophomore gets it done with his arm and his legs, rushing for a team-high eight touchdowns, while completing just over 60 percent of his throws for 2,143 yards and 14 more scores. The receiving corps is deep and talented, led by WRs Danny Coale (44 receptions, 724 yards, three TDs) and Jarrett Boykin (40 receptions, 523 yards, four TDs).
Beamer has been impressed with Thomas evolving skill set.
"He's a load. He's a hard guy to bring down. I think he gets a little bit better all the time. He's seeing the field better each and every week. He's a great leader for us, I promise you."
Virginia Tech' defense is once again a force. The team is holding foes to 16.5 ppg, while allowing just 302.5 yards of total offense. The unit lost one of its leaders a couple of weeks ago when LB Bruce Taylor was lost to a foot injury, but others have stood up in his absence. Safety Antone Exum is one of those guys, leading the team in tackles (53), with one sack, one INT and one fumble recovery. Linebacker Tariq Edwards (47 tackles, 9.0 TFLs, 2.5 sacks, two INTs), defensive end J.R. Collins (42 tackles, 8.0 TFLs, 6.0 sacks) and cornerbacks Kyle Fuller (47 tackles, 9.5 TFLs, one INT), and Jayron Hosley (37 tackles, three INTs) make things difficult on opposing offenses.
With a win and a Virginia loss, the Hokies will win the Coastal Division. If both teams win or lose, next week's showdown in Charlottesville will be for a spot in the ACC Championship Game. Virginia Tech will take care of its end of that scenario behind the play of Thomas and Wilson.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Virginia Tech 31, North Carolina 17
11/16 10:43:31 ET