With their bye week past, #14 Virginia Tech returns to the field this week to take on North Carolina in one of the ACC’s biggest mismatches this season. Both programs have gone in opposite directions since last year’s clash during Hurricane Matthew. The Hokies have solidified themselves as a top 20 program while the Tar Heels are in the midst of their worst season under Larry Fedora.
Despite UNC’s struggles, the Tar Heels will be hungry and desperate to pull off a big upset. Meanwhile, the Hokies know that they have the opportunity to make a statement. With that said, here is our by the numbers preview.
46.4%: Completion rate for opponents against Virginia Tech’s defense.
Virginia Tech’s pass defense has been stout this season with opponents only completing 46.4% of their passes against the Hokies, second in the nation. The Hokies have shut down their fair share of quarterbacks, and UNC will face a huge challenge trying to move the football through the air this week, especially with a pair of QBs who haven’t played well.
Both Chazz Surratt and Brandon Harris have completed under 60% of their passes for the Tar Heels this season with Surratt being better than Harris with a 58.8% completion rate. However, Surratt hasn’t been in an environment like Lane Stadium before, increasing his challenge while Harris has been poor passing the ball with a 51.1% completion rate.
This is a big mismatch that will force UNC to try to find a way to establish a rushing attack to help their quarterbacks out. Even when opponents have tried to do so, we’ve still seen the Hokies’ secondary step up and keep opposing quarterbacks around a 50% completion rate or worse. Both of UNC’s quarterbacks will be tested and may be in for their worst games of the season against a Hokies’ secondary that is one of the best in the nation at forcing incompletions.
6.4: Number of yards UNC RB Michael Carter is averaging per carry.
North Carolina has struggled this season, but they may have found a future star in freshman running back Michael Carter who is averaging 6.4 yards per carry this season. Carter had a breakout game last week against Virginia with 13 carries for 157 yards and 2 touchdowns. Carter was a big reason why UNC came close to upsetting Virginia last week, and will be an important part of the UNC offense this week.
The Hokies have had some issues containing mobile quarterbacks like Clemson’s Kelly Bryant, but they haven’t had issues containing opposing running backs. In the Hokies’ past two games, they have held talented running backs like Travis Etienne, Tavien Feaster, and AJ Dillon to under 4 yards per carry. The Hokies have shown that they can contain more traditional running games, and will need to do against UNC.
If the Tar Heels are going to have a shot at pulling off the upset, they’re going to need Michael Carter to have a big game. If not, it’s hard seeing this game be competitive for more than a half.
8: Number of pass breakups Greg Stroman and UNC’s MJ Stewart have.
This game will showcase two of the best cornerbacks in college football, Virginia Tech’s Greg Stroman and North Carolina’s MJ Stewart. The pair of senior cornerbacks have played extremely well with both having eight pass breakups and Stroman having an interception.
Stroman has been the best cornerback in the ACC with most opponents simply avoiding Stroman or having almost no success against him. So far, Stroman has more pass breakups (8) than tackles (6) which isn’t because Stroman is a poor tackler, but because he has been dominant in coverage with quarterbacks either throwing incompletions his way or avoiding Stroman completely.
Meanwhile, MJ Stewart has been the star for the Tar Heels this season, and one of the best defensive players UNC has had in the past decade. Stewart is a versatile player that has not only been productive in coverage, but also has made plays in opposing backfields with 4 tackles for loss including 2 sacks.
Stroman and Stewart are two of the best cornerbacks in America and it should be exciting to see them both go to work tomorrow afternoon with Stewart facing the tougher challenge against Cam Phillips.
5.1: Number of yards per carry for Travon McMillian
Travon McMillian has started to find his rhythm in Virginia Tech’s offense with at least 4.5 yards per carry in his past four games. McMillian had his best game of the season two weeks ago against Boston College with 17 carries for 88 yards and a touchdown. In that game, McMillian ran with confidence and toughness fighting for extra yards and consistently.
McMillian has a great chance to build on that this week with Deshawn McClease doubtful and Steven Peoples just returning from injury. Justin Fuente also suggested this week that he’s prepared to stick with McMillian if he continues to run the ball effectively as he did in Chestnut Hill.
McMillian is also facing a weaker UNC defense that has suffered injuries all over including along their defensive line. The Tar Heels are also 115th in rushing yards allowed per game and are giving up 4.9 yards per carry.
This has the makings of being a field day for McMillian against a UNC rush defense that is struggling and banged up.
1: Number of times Virginia Tech beat North Carolina last season.
Football is played in all sorts of weather no matter if it’s a perfect sunny day like this upcoming Saturday, or if it’s in the middle of a hurricane like last year’s game. A win is a win and the Hokies proved last year that they were the significantly better team in Chapel Hill, especially when you beat your opponent 34-3 in their stadium.