Virginia Tech dominated North Carolina on their way to a 59-7 victory that was their largest margin of victory in an ACC game. Check out our takeaways from Saturday’s blowout victory here.
1. Is there a defensive weakness?
Virginia Tech’s defense had its best performance of the season against North Carolina. The Hokies held the Tar Heels to 172 yards of offense while forcing three turnovers and scoring two touchdowns off those turnovers. The Hokies were dominant all around as UNC completed only 8 of their 22 passes while VT held UNC’s rushing game to 1.3 yards per carry.
It was an all-around dominant performance from the Virginia Tech defense that makes you wonder if there is a weakness on this defense. The answer is absolutely no.
Virginia Tech’s pass rush had been solid through the first six games, but broke out Saturday with 6 sacks and lots of pressure. The Hokies’ pass rush forced plenty of scrambles from the UNC QBs with both Chazz Surratt and Brandon Harris being able to negate their losses a couple of times, but nothing more than that.
Tim Settle and Ricky Walker were overwhelming up the middle throughout while Trevon Hill is continuing to come into his own as a pass rusher. Mook Reynolds also continues to be underrated as a blitzer as he was able to get a hit on Surratt unblocked that led to the fumble returned for a TD by Ricky Walker seconds later.
2. Joey Slye’s kicking continues to be an issue.
Joey Slye’s kicking struggles continued as he went 1-for-2 on field goals and had a close call with an extra point. His field goal miss was from 47 yards but for a guy who has been kicking for four years, his long-range accuracy hasn’t developed as hoped. It was positive to see Slye make his second field goal but even in his warm-ups, it’s clear that Slye’s confidence is low at best.
The Hokies have been fortunate to avoid any close games where Slye could have been decisive since their season-opening win against West Virginia. However, the Hokies are going to need Slye to regain the confidence that made him one of the best kickers in the ACC during the first three seasons of his collegiate career.
A kicker’s head may be the most important thing, more than his form or leg strength. Slye has always had the kicking talent but right now, he lacks the mental game that he needs to be a productive kicker. If he can get the mental side of his game right, you can expect his performance to pick back up.
If Slye keeps struggling, Justin Fuente may be forced to see what other options he has via backup kicker Brian Johnson and backup punter Jordan Stout who has experience as a kicker in high school. Virginia Tech would rather not get to that point, but Slye could force their hand if he keeps struggling.
3. Offense continues to struggle early.
Virginia Tech’s offense struggled again in the first quarter, failing to score a single point while the Hokies’ defense and special teams had the first two touchdowns of the game. The offense did get going in the second quarter and was firing on all cylinders by the end of the first half, but the early struggles continue to be an issue.
Virginia Tech has relied on their dominant defense early, and they’ve been able to get away with slow starts in most games this year. However, they weren’t able to get away with that in their game against Clemson and can’t afford to have those same problems in the coming weeks with games at Miami and Georgia Tech looming.
Part of that has been due to poor red zone offense with VT sputtering in the red zone against Old Dominion being a great example of this. Part of this has also been due to some field goal kicking problems as we mentioned above. Either way, the Hokies’ offense has struggled in the first quarter in most games, and have benefited heavily from their strong defense to allow the offense to find their rhythm.
While that defense isn’t going to decline anytime soon, the Hokies do need their offense to get off to better starts especially with tougher competition looming. However, Josh Jackson and the Hokies’ offense have shown the ability to get off to better starts at times including against ECU to an extent. If the Hokies can find some early offensive production, Virginia Tech can take the next step and allow their defense to not be on the field as much early in the game.
Extra Point: Justin Fuente and Larry Fedora don’t like each other.
Justin Fuente and Larry Fedora respect each other, but it became clear Saturday that they don’t like each other. Once the game was out of hand, Fuente did bring in his backups on offense but twice when the Hokies were up by more than 40, Fuente went for it on fourth down. Those decisions were very unusual and a sign that while the two respect each other, they don’t like each other.
If you re-watch the final seconds of the game, you’ll also see one of the quickest handshakes of the season between Justin Fuente and Larry Fedora. The two coaches don’t like each other and were ready for war on Saturday. Of course, Fuente had a lot more firepower for this game, and it showed with the Hokies by their largest margin of victory against an ACC team since joining the ACC.
That bad blood likely has come on the recruiting trail as Fuente has gone to war with Fedora and all of the North Carolina schools. Meanwhile, Fedora has made a push into Virginia similar to that with both coaches having success against the other on their home turf.
Justin Fuente and Larry Fedora definitely respect each other, but that doesn’t mean they like each other. Based on what we saw and heard Saturday, there is definitely a rivalry brewing between Fuente and Fedora.