After a frustrating performance against playoff contender Notre Dame, the Virginia Tech Hokies travel to Chapel Hill to face North Carolina on Saturday Night. The Tar Heels are coming off their own subpar game, a 47-10 pummeling against #16 Miami. This will be the Hokies’ third night game in a row, and they look to get back on track against 1-3 UNC. Here are three keys to the game for VT to stay undefeated in the ACC Saturday night:
Get Ryan Willis Any Kind of Help on Offense
Against Notre Dame, quarterback Ryan Willis threw the ball 52 times. That’s the most pass attempts by a QB in a game in the Fuente era at Virginia Tech. In fact, quarterbacks have only had 50 or more attempts in a game once in Fuente’s entire coaching career.
Naturally, this led to Virginia Tech’s offense being completely one-dimensional against the Irish, and Willis seemed to be trying to do too much. If the Hokies want to have more success offensively and preserve Willis’ energy, they will need to incorporate other means of offensive production.
Presumably, this production must come from the running game. Since Willis became the starting quarterback, the Hokies have only averaged 2.88 yards-per-carry and have scored only one touchdown on the ground. Those number will need to improve.
The issue doesn’t appear to be with the talent level of the running backs, as Steven Peoples and Deshawn McClease have both shown that they are very capable backs. Whether it is an issue with blocking or playcalling or something else, the bottom line is that these two backs are not performing the way they potentially could be.
Fortunately for Virginia Tech, UNC comes in with one of the worst rush defenses in the nation. The Hokies will need to take advantage of that and find more production from Peoples and McClease in order to get the win.
Play Like a Team With Something to Prove as They Did vs. Duke
Prior to the win against Duke, there were numerous question marks surrounding the Hokies. They just suffered one of the worst losses in school history against Old Dominion, starting quarterback Josh Jackson went down with a broken fibula, and starting defensive end Trevon Hill was kicked off the team.
The Hokies ignored all of that and took care of business in Durham against the then-number-22 Blue Devils.
For anyone watching that game, it was clear that the Hokies were an angry team with a lot to prove. They will need to bring that same intensity to Chapel Hill against the Tar Heels.
UNC has shown that they are not at the same level as Duke, so it will be natural for this young Hokies team to want to sleepwalk through this game. However, we’ve seen what can happen when a lower level opponent is not taken seriously.
The Notre Dame loss may have been discouraging, but the reality is it has almost no bearing on the rest of Virginia Tech’s season. They still have a 2-0 ACC record and control their own destiny in the Coastal Division. If anything, this UNC game should be taken even more seriously than Notre Dame.
The Hokies will need to play with passion in order to avoid the upset and prove why they are still one of the top contenders to challenge Clemson in the ACC Championship.
Get Pressure on Nathan Elliott
North Carolina quarterback Nathan Elliott has shown that he is fully capable of spreading the ball all over the field against weak secondaries. In the Tar Heels’ only win against Pitt, Elliott threw for 313 yards and two touchdowns.
Though Elliott has been inconsistent, it’s clear that the Hokies will face a very capable arm. However, Elliott has struggled when under pressure and is prone to turnovers at times as he showed against California with four interceptions.
If the Hokies want to limit North Carolina’s strong offense, they will need to get pressure and force turnovers. If they are unable to do so, Elliott can take advantage of the Hokies’ weak secondary especially if Divine Deablo is unable to play.
This is the kind of game that can get ugly really quickly. However, this is also the kind of game where the Hokies can fool around and get upset on the road again.
If they are able to ease the pressure on Ryan Willis, play with intensity, and put pressure on the quarterbacks, this should be an easy win for Virginia Tech.