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Three Things to Watch For Virginia Tech Against North Carolina

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We thought we were in store for a part 2 of the Hurricane games between Virginia Tech and North Carolina today but instead, Ian has largely blown up with the forecast looking dry now for football in Chapel Hill today. That probably isn't the best news if you're a VT fan but also given Tech's passing game strength, may not be a bad thing either.

With that said, this is still an intriguing ACC Coastal matchup between 2 rivals looking to bounce back from out of conference losses last week so here's our 3 things to watch for the Hokies against UNC.

1. Can Virginia Tech's Rushing Attack Find Some Sort of Life?

Virginia Tech's rushing attack has gone the wrong way through the first month of the season from Keshawn King having a big opener against ODU to a 65-yard TD against Boston College but not much else to two-straight abysmal performances by that group especially against WVU where out of 11 carries for RBs, only 1 went for more yards and didn't come till the game was getting out of hand.

The good news for this unit is that UNC's defense hasn't been good at all including their rush defense which is allowing 4.9 yards per carry and 12.8 rushing first downs. That's a sight to sore eyes and a clear opportunity for this unit to climb out of the abyss and to some semblance of at least mediocrity.

Keshawn King's return somewhat exposed the reality that Tech's biggest issues are in the trenches with an experience offensive line that is struggling despite the experience they have. Part of that is likely adjusting to a new scheme that they are struggling to get comfortable in but some of it is also this unit being in a funk.

To go back to back weeks failing to convert 4th and 1s regardless of how poor the play call was isn't great because let's be honest, the 4th and 1 against WVU never had a chance because the VT OL didn't even get a push making a bad play call look a whole lot worse.

Tech needs this unit to provide something to extend drives and give their defense rest especially against a Phil Longo offense that has been very good to start the season and won't be afraid to use lots of tempo. If Tech can even have a rushing attack that is mediocre, it'll provide a significant boost.

2. Slightly Depleted Secondary Faces Toughest Challenge

Drake Maye and the UNC passing offense have been impressive this season to say the least with Mate having a 16:1 TD:INT ratio plus 6 different receivers who have 9+ receptions including star Josh Downs who missed some time earlier in the season.

On the other side, Tech's pass defense has been pretty stout this season, but they had to Chapel Hill somewhat depleted with Dorian Strong's status up in the air due to an injury suffered late in the first half against WVU plus #1 nickelback Jalen Stroman out for the first half due to a second half targeting penalty last week.

So Tech is facing a really good UNC offense without potentially 2 of their top 5-6 DBs for the first half including potentially their #1 cornerback who matches up the best with Josh Downs for the whole game? Yeah, that's not an ideal situation on paper.

However, we've seen this Tech secondary step up especially Brion Murray last week holding Bryce Ford-Wheaton without a reception with JT Daniels rarely targeting his star receiver. Tech will need him and Armani Chatman to be at their best to try to slow this UNC passing attack down. Chamarri Conner will also be needed against some of UNC's bigger receivers like Bryson Nesbitt to chip in and make some big plays for Tech.

Meanwhile, Tech's pass rush has provided a big boost but went quiet against WVU and will need to find ways to affect Drake Maye. Tech's defensive ends have been strong overall this year led by TyJuan Garbutt with the Hokies needing plays from those guys plus their top pass-rushing DT Norell Pollard. Don't be surprised to see Tech blitz a good amount to try to shorten the young Drake Maye's decision-making time.

So can Tech's solid pass defense step up despite some potential significant absences in the secondary? It could be what wins Tech this game if they do.

3. Limiting The Penalties

One of the biggest issues for Virginia Tech so far this season is one of the most fixable ones, penalties. Twice we've seen penalties shoot VT in the foot against ODU and WVU with it clearly costing them against the Monarchs and partially responsible for the rout by the Mountaineers.

Brent Pry and the player leadership have put some punishments based on penalty yards with a player having to do a 40-yard spring for every penalty yard they pick up with Dax Hollifield jokingly relieved when speaking with some media members earlier this week that this game is when this new policy begins and not the previous one.

Of course, there are some penalties that stick out more than others but we've see Tech have some critical drive-killing penalties on offense especially against ODU and drive-extending ones on defense including the pair of penalties after 4th and 3rd stops against WVU from 2 captains on WVU's way to getting a touchdown that blew the game wide open.

If Tech can clean those penalty issues up and play with some discipline, they'll give themselves a shot. If not, this will likely be a long day for the Hokies.

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