Heel Tough Blog: Virginia Tech Preview

On Saturday, the Tar Heels will be back in action as they face off against the Virginia Tech Hokies in Blacksburg. A win would keep the team in control of their own destiny in the ACC Coastal going forward and would all but eliminate Virginia Tech from the race. In order to do that, though, the Tar Heels will have to go into Lane Stadium and come away with a victory for just the third time since Virginia Tech’s arrival in the ACC. Here’s the breakdown for the Tar Heels matchup with the Hokies.

Team Breakdowns

Tar Heels

This Tar Heel team enters the game off their most complete game of the season two weeks ago. The key is to carry that offensive performance over and continue to build on the progress that we’ve seen since the beginning of the season. The staff opened up the offense against Georgia Tech and Sam Howell (123-195, 1544 yds, 15-3 TD-INT, 56 rush, 15 yds, TD) thrived, putting together his best performance of the season. The Tar Heels run game was phenomenal, as the duo of Javonte Williams (83 rush, 492 yds, 3 TD, 10 rec, 96 yds) and Michael Carter (84 rush, 387 yds, 13 rec, 107 yds, 2 TD) continue had big days as they continue to search for consistency. It helps that the offensive line had a chance to get healthy and is beginning to find their stride as a unit, led by the steady improvement of Brian Anderson at center. The offensive line will look to once again keep the quarterback upright to get the ball to a loaded group of receivers. Dyami Brown (24 rec, 424 yds, 5 TD) and Dazz Newsome (29 rec, 367 yds, 3 TD) put together great performances in the first half of the season and Beau Corrales (18 rec, 213 yds, 3 TD) is beginning to emerge as a strong third option.

The Tar Heels defense enters Saturday following a first half of the season that was a major step in the right direction under the direction of new defensive coordinator Jay Bateman. The defensive line entered the season as the strength of this defense and remains in good shape. Injuries slowed the units impact in the Wake Forest and Appalachian State game, but this bye week allowed guys like Aaron Crawford (29 ttkl, 6.5 TFL, 3.0 scks) and Jason Strowbridge (13 ttkl, 2.0 TFL, FR) to rest up for the home stretch. The strength of this defense right now is it’s linebacking corps, where Chazz Surratt (46 ttkl, 5.5 TFL, 3.0 scks, 2 PD) and Jeremiah Gemmel (39 ttkl, 2.5 TFL, 0.5 sck, PD) have emerged as the stars of the defense. Tomon Fox (22 ttkl, 6.5 TFL, 4.5 scks) has also had a strong start to the season at outside linebacker and will look to make his impact more consistent in the second half. The secondary entered the season with plenty of talent, but injuries have decimated the unit, leaving the team unable to even fill the two deep. Guys like Storm Duck (13 ttkl, PD) and Don Chapman (5 ttkl, INT) are promising young players, though, and Myles Dorn (43 ttkl, 3.0 TFL, INT, 2 PD) has been a versatile weapon for the team in the secondary.

The special teams unit has had a rocky start to the season. Ben Kiernan (34 punts, 41.8 avg) has been the only real bright spot, getting his season turned in the right direction after a terrible showing against Miami. Noah Ruggles (15-15 XP, 8-12 FG, Long of 49) has been accurate from close range, but has struggled on kicks of 40+ yards. The return games have been relatively quiet so far this season and the coverage units have really had their issues early in the season.

Virginia Tech

The Hokies offense has turned itself around after some struggles under the direction of Ryan WIllis (69-114, 851 yds, 8-5 TD-INT, 35 rush, 47 yds, TD). Hendon Hooker (27-49, 453 yds, 6-0 TD-INT, 38 rush, 115 yds, TD) has revitalized the offense and has the Hokies offense back to moving the ball down the field again, something they could do early in the season. The passing offense has been the strength of this offense under Hooker’s direction thanks to a loaded receiving corps and tight end unit led by Tayvion Robinson (23 rec, 245, TD) and Dalton Keene (15 rec, 153 yds, 4 TD) and a now healthy Damon Hazelton Jr. (7 rec, 194 yds, 3 TD). The running game is still a  work in progress, but Hooker being a threat could help Deshawn McClease (84 rush, 403 yds, 2 TD, 4 rec, 21 yds) and Keshawn King (52 rush, 240 yds, TD, 4 rec, 59 yds) find more success. The offensive line has been solid, but has allowed 12 sacks so far this season.

The “lunchpail” defenses of the past are long gone for Virginia Tech. While the unit hasn’t been as bad as a year ago, the unit has still had it’s issues, especially in pass defense. Reggie Floyd (35 ttkl, 1.5 TFL, FF, PD), arguably the face of the secondary, will miss the first half of the game due to suspension. The good news for the Hokies is, they do have corners that can make plays on the football in Caleb Farley (14 ttkl, 3 INT, 6 PD) and Jermaine Waller (26 ttkl, 3 INT, 3 PD). The Hokies linebacking corps is in solid shape, with Rayshard Ashby (54 ttkl, 8.0 TFL, 2.5 scks) and Dax Hollifield (32 ttkl, FF) of to solid starts. The defensive line has been the strength of the defense, led by Emmanual Belmar (20 ttkl, 4.0 TFL, 3.0 scks).

The special teams unit is another unit that has had its ups and downs. Oscar Bradburn (26 punts, 48.0 avg) has been one of the best punters in the country this season, while Brian Johnson (22-22 XP, 5-7 FG) has been decent at kicker. The return unit is struggling to make much of an impact, especially at kick returner where they are still rotating players.

Team Stats

Tar Heels

Off. PPG: 26.5 (86th)

Off. PYPG: 261.5 (50th)

Off. RYPG: 163.7 (68th)

Off. TYPG: 425.2 (53rd)

Off. 3rd Down %: 36.2% (99th)

Def. PPG: 24.3 (T-54th)

Def. PYPG: 211.0 (57th)

Def. RYPG: 160.8 (73rd)

Def. TYPG: 371.8 (53rd)

Sacks: 13.0 (T-67th)

Interceptions: 6 (T-36th)

Turnover Margin: +1

Virginia Tech

Off. PPG: 28.2 (75th)

Off. PYPG: 217.3 (80th)

Off. RYPG: 162.0 (71st)

Off. TYPG: 379.3 (90th)

Off. 3rd Down %: 51.2% (8th)

Def. PPG: 27.7 (73rd)

Def. PYPG: 234.7 (78th)

Def. RYPG: 145.7 (57th)

Def. TYPG: 380.3 (58th)

Sacks: 20.0 (T-19th)

Interceptions: 6 (T-36th)

Turnover Margin: -3 (T-99th)

Keys to the Game

Get After Hooker

The Tar Heels have been hit and miss when it comes to getting pressure on the quarterback this season, but with all of the injuries that the secondary has endured, it is crucial for this unit to provide pressure on Saturday. The defensive line has had a chance to rest up and Bateman has been more aggressive lately, so now is a good time for this unit to step up and have a big performance.

Come Out Throwing

The Tar Heels did a great job of taking advantage of the weaknesses of the Georgia Tech defense last time out and they will have to do the same against Virginia Tech on Saturday. The Hokies have had trouble against the pass so far this season and with Reggie Floyd out for the first half, the Tar Heels should look to come out throwing if they want to get off to a strong start offensively.

Take Care of the Football

This is a team the Tar Heels have struggled to beat and last year’s game was filled with turnovers that prevented the Heels from winning in Kenan. This team has done a good job on holding on to the football so far this season outside of the Appalachian State game. If this team can take care of the football on Saturday, they have a chance to walk away with a huge road win in Lane Stadium.

Injury Report

Tar Heels

OUT- Brandon Fritts (knee), Cam’Ron Kelly (knee), Trey Morrison (arm), Patrice Rene (knee), Bryson Richardson (knee), Jace Ruder (lower body), Myles Wolfolk (foot)

DOUBT- Tre Shaw (lower body)

Virginia Tech

OUT- Cole Beck (collarbone), Dashawn Crawford (lower body), Jalen Holston (knee)

DOUBT- T.J. Jackson (foot)

QUEST- Tre Turner (lower body)

Projected Starting Lineups

Tar Heels



# 7 Sam Howell, Fr.


#25 Javonte Williams, So. OR

# 8 Michael Carter, Jr.


# 2 Dyami Brown, So.


#15 Beau Corrales, Jr.


# 5 Dazz Newsome, Jr.


#86 Carl Tucker, Sr.


#67 Charlie Heck, Sr..


#63 Ed Montilus, RFr.


#68 Brian Anderson, So.


#73 Marcus McKethan, So.


#74 Jordan Tucker, So.



#56 Tomari Fox, Fr. OR

#51 Raymond Vohasek, So.


#92 Aaron Crawford, Sr.


#55 Jason Strowbridge, Sr.