It's been 650 days since fans have rocked a packed Lane Stadium, but that changes tonight as Virginia Tech returns home in front of a sold out crowd for a massive ACC showdown with #10 North Carolina.
The Hokies have been fairly dominant against the Tar Heels during their ACC run, but UNC has been on the rise and enters favored. However, Tech has had their fair share of thrilling wins against UNC recently from the Hurricane game in 2016 to the 2017 rout and the 6 OT thriller in 2019.
So will the Hokies add another memorable win to their dominance or will the Tar Heels take down Tech for the second-straight year?
The hype machine surrounding UNC arrives in Blacksburg with a hungry Virginia Tech team that has plenty to prove that they can be a contender alongside the Tar Heels and Miami in the ACC Coastal this year. Both teams enter with some questions though the Hokies seem to have the bigger questions than the Tar Heels.
Tech has plenty of offensive skill position talent but QB and the playcalling of Brad Cornelsen are at the top of the list of questions while UNC's bigger questions come at the skill positions. Unsurprisingly, they don't come in the backfield where UNC has one of the best QBs in the country in Sam Howell and a talented RB in Tennessee transfer RB Ty Chandler who Tech needs to be effective at containing.
Meanwhile, both teams return lots of experience on the defensive side of the football especially for UNC with their defense having only three sophomores and no freshmen starters. Both defenses should be much better than last year's high-scoring game which may lead this to be a much more lower-scoring game than the shootout some are expecting.
As mentioned above, Tech definitely has the playmakers on the outside but the big question is can Braxton Burmeister take advantage and stretch the field. That was an area where Burmeister was inconsistent at with it hampering Tech's offense multiple times last season including in the first half against UNC. However, Burmeister showed he has the potential to be effective in the vertical passing game to end the season in UVA but the jury is still out as to whether he can consistently do that.
If Tech's going to win this game though, they'll need UVA game Burmeister and not midseason Burmeister.
Defensively, Tech has to contain Ty Chandler and force UNC's young group of receivers to prove they can step their game up for Sam Howell. Tech's advantage in the secondary should allow the Hokies to bring some extra pressure on passing downs, but if they can't contain Chandler, then Howell may have an easy night against a Tech defense that can't afford to overcompensate for the running game.
This should be a thrilling four quarter game that I think will end up being a lower-scoring game than many expect but in the end, Tech's inconsistency stretching the field at QB and questionable playcalling will get in the way of a strong defensive performance with UNC winning a low-scoring game at Lane Stadium.
Pick: #10 North Carolina 24, Virginia Tech 17
The Hokies have a huge opportunity to start off 2021 brightly as they host the No. 10 ranked Tar Heels on Friday night.
The pivotal ACC Coastal matchup kicks off the season for both programs; Virginia Tech looks to return to a bowl game after a sub .500 performance in 2020 while quarterback Sam Howell of North Carolina seeks to live up to the Heisman hype.
The Hokies come into the season with a clear name at the quarterback position for the first time in a few years with Braxton Burmeister. In his starts during the 2020 campaign, the redshirt junior went 3-1 for the Hokies, with his sole loss coming to the Tar Heels on Oct. 10.
In Justin Hamilton’s first season as the defensive coordinator, the Hokies had their struggles at stopping opposing defenses as they gave up 32.09 PPG. The matchup between the Tar Heels and the Hokies in Chapel Hill was one of the darker performances for Hamilton’s defense as North Carolina piled up 56 points in the afternoon.
The battle between the Hokies defense and the Tar Heels offense will be the matchup to watch at Lane Stadium on Friday, as Howell looks to continue his successful collegiate career against Virginia Tech.
The junior quarterback has tossed for 8 touchdowns and over 600 passing yards for the Tar Heels in the previous two meetings against the Hokies. In the six overtime contest between North Carolina and Virginia Tech in 2019, Howell had a near perfect day for the Tar Heels as he went on to throw five touchdown passes and zero interceptions.
Not only the play of Howell was spectacular in 2020, the overall offensive unit of the Tar Heels were as well. In 7 of their 11 regular season contests, North Carolina put 40+ points on the board and went 6-1 in games that reached the benchmark.
The Tar Heels did lose some big names to the 2021 NFL Draft, so the offense of North Carolina will have to make those adjustments fairly efficiently in order to knock off a Hokie team that’s hungry for revenge.
In what looks to be a tightly contested matchup between the Tar Heels and the Hokies, I could see either side pulling away with the victory on Friday. I believe if Howell plays up to his name against the Hokies, the Tar Heels will slip past the Hokies and show why they are ranked as one of the best teams in the country.