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Heel Tough Blog: Virginia Tech Preview


Saturday’s game against Virginia Tech was looking like it would come in the elements thanks to Hurricane Ian. The storm certainly affected the area on Friday afternoon and evening and could make travel a bit difficult for some fans, but it appears that the weather during the game will be pretty nice considering the circumstances. That sets the stage for a big game for this program as the team looms to silence the questions that are starting to pop up about the direction of the program.


Team Breakdowns

Tar Heels

After four games, we have a really good grasp on exactly what this 2022 team is. The positive is that the offense looks like it is really good once again led by one of the nation’s top quarterbacks. Drake Maye is the nation’s leader in touchdowns entering Week 5 of the season with 16 through four games. He’ll enter Saturday after arguably his worst performance of the season overall because of the team’s inability to move the football and could certainly be looking to prove something. He’ll need help from an offensive line that really struggled a week ago with the physicality of Notre Dame after a solid start to the season. The group needs to get off to a better start than they did a week ago to allow Maye and the running game to settle into a rhythm. One thing that must also return this week is the offense’s ability to spread the ball around in the passing game. The tight ends were a major part of the success for the team in the first three games of the season, but were extremely quiet a week ago in the loss. They need to return to their early season form this week and the pass catchers as a whole need to catch the football better around Josh Downs. In the backfield, the group simply has to be able establish some sort of running game after it was non-existent a week ago. With the lack of success with a smaller rotation against Notre Dame, I would not be surprised to see the four main backs all get carries on Saturday.

Defensively, it is hard to really have any confidence at this point. The unit was absolutely dominated by a Notre Dame offense for 45 points and 576 yards that entered the game averaging 18.3 points per game and 300.3 yards of total offense. Up front, the Notre Dame game was as bad of a performance as we have seen from this unit in a long time. They were simply blown back off the football and could not contain the edge, leading to a massive 287-yard day on the ground for the Irish. The guys who were expected to step up this offseason simply aren’t and the hope is that they can put it together enough or the youth can start to earn some reps and provide some resistance. Power Echols and Cedric Gray have had moments where they have played really well, but they have their issues with missed tackles and have been picked on in coverage. The biggest thing for them is consistency, but that is certainly easier said than done with how many different responsibilities they are having to take on right now in the second level of the defense. The secondary has just had no answers for communication breakdowns and big plays that have plagued them early in the season and it is resulting in huge games for opposing quarterbacks. This is another position where the veterans are not getting the job done and until they are, there needs to be more rotation to try to find any sort of consistent plays back there.

The special teams unit suffered a big loss this week that will be tested for the first time on Saturday. Kickoff specialist Jonathan Kim entered the transfer portal on Monday in hopes of finding a starting kicking job. That means Noah Burnette will now have to try to replace one of the most consistent kickoff men in the entire country while embracing the full burden of the starting kicking job with the lack of depth behind him. The rest of the unit is in good shape, though, led by punter Ben Kiernan, who is off to an outstanding start to the season. The punt return game has been very solid even with the absence of Josh Downs following his early season injury. The kick return unit has not been tested that much early in the season, but Omarion Hampton is averaging just 18.2 yards on his five returns.

Virginia Tech

The Hokies are in a very similar situation to the one that Notre Dame had entering Chapel Hill last weekend. The offense is struggling mightily while the defense will prevent a major challenge for the Tar Heels, maybe even more so than a week ago. Offensively, the issue has been the inability to move the football combined with the turnovers. Marshall transfer Grant Wells threw for less than 200 yards just three times a year ago for the Thundering Herd, but has done that in three of his first four games with the Hokies. He has also had turnover issues early on, throwing five interceptions in the first four games, but four of those did come in the first game of the season against Old Dominion. The running game hasn’t been any help for him, as the team has run for just 112.0 yards per game, including just 35 a week ago against West Virginia. Still, guys like Keshawn King and Jalen Holston are more than capable of breaking out at any time. In terms of the pass catchers, the tight ends will be the biggest threat that the Tar Heels will have to worry about, especially after what happened against Notre Dame. Both Nick Gallo and Connor Blumrick will be a major part of the passing game on Saturday, as will receiver Kaleb Smith, who is the biggest threat on the outside. The offensive line comes in struggling a bit to start the season, but still has plenty of talent and experience led by the veterans Kaden Moore and Johnny Jordan on the interior.

This is easily the most highly rated defense that the Tar Heels have faced so far this season, but it is notable that the Hokies have not exactly faced the most lethal offenses. With that being said, this is a run defense that is letting up just 86.0 yards per game and is allowing just 256.0 yards per game. The defensive line is once again a strength for this unit, led by the edge rushing trio of TyJuan Garbutt, C.J. McCray and Cole Nelson. Inside linebacker Dax Hollifield is the leader of the defense and is part of a linebacking corps that will hope to respond to a week where they allowed 218 yards on the ground. The secondary might not be as talented as some of Bud Foster’s best, but Dorian Strong and Armani Chatman are a very formidable corner tandem and Chamarri Conner is the guy to watch at safety.

The Hokies special teams also look to be in good shape despite some departures in the offseason. William Ross has looked good so far in place of John Parker Romo as the team’s kicker and Chance Black has been productive so far as the team’s punt returner. Meanwhile, punter Peter Moore is off to a slower start than in years past, but he is still a reliable option. The weakness of this unit is the punt return group that has struggled to do anything in the first four games.



Team Stats

Tar Heels

Off. PPG: 46.5 (8th)

Off. PYPG: 307.8 (19th)

Off. RYPG: 194.5 (33rd)

Off. TYPG: 502.3 (16th)

Off. 3rd Down %: 52.8% (8th)

Tackles For A Loss Allowed: 23.0 (T-80th)

Sacks Allowed: 9.0 (T-79th)

Def. PPG: 39.5 (123rd)

Def. PYPG: 278.8 (113th)

Def. RYPG: 216.5 (124th)

Def. TYPG: 495.3 (126th)

Def. 3rd Down %: 41.8% (99th)

Tackles for A Loss: 18.0 (T-98th)

Sacks: 7.0 (T-81st)

Interceptions: 2 (T-85th)

Turnover Margin: -1 (T-76th)

Penalties Per Game: 7.5 (T-103rd)

Penalty Yards Per Game: 72.3 (117th)

Virginia Tech

Off. PPG: 20.3 (113th)

Off. PYPG: 218.0 (91st)

Off. RYPG: 112.0 (T-110th)

Off. TYPG: 330.0 (106th)

Off. 3rd Down %: 33.3% (T-105th)

Tackles For A Loss Allowed: 22.0 (T-69th)

Sacks Allowed: 5.0 (T-32nd)

Def. PPG: 17.5 (T-26th)

Def. PYPG: 170.0 (20th)

Def. RYPG: 86.0 (T-16th)

Def. TYPG: 256.0 (10th)

Def. 3rd Down %: 20.4% (4th)

Tackles for A Loss: 26.0 (T-38th)

Sacks: 5.0 (T-32nd)

Interceptions: 1 (T-109th)

Turnover Margin: -2 (T-90th)

Penalties Per Game: 10.0 (129th)

Penalty Yards Per Game: 80.8 (127th)



Injury Report

Tar Heels

OUT- British Brooks (lower leg), Ja’Qurious Conley (knee), Jahlil Taylor (lower body)

Virginia Tech

OUT- Benji Gosnell (knee), Dallan Wright (undisclosed)

QUEST- Johnny Garrett (undisclosed), Dorian Strong (hand), Malachi Thomas (ankle)



Projected Starting Lineups

Tar Heels Offense

QB#10 Drake Maye, RFr.

RB#28 Omarion Hampton, Fr.

WR# 5 J.J. Jones, So.

WR# 2 Gavin Blackwell, RFr.

WR#11 Josh Downs, Jr.

TE#88 Kamari Morales, Jr. OR #18 Bryson Nesbit, So. OR #81 John Copenhaver, So.

LT#72 Asim Richards, Sr.

LG#63 Ed Montilus, Sr.

C#65 Corey Gaynor, Sr.

RG#76 William Barnes, Sr. OR #75 Spencer Rolland, Sr.

RT#75 Spencer Rolland, Sr. OR #76 William Barnes, Sr. Defense

NOSE#51 Raymond Vohasek, Sr. OR #98 Kevin Hester Jr., Jr.

3-TECH# 8 Myles Murphy, Jr.

END#25 Kaimon Rucker, Jr.

JACK# 7 Noah Taylor, Sr.

MIKE#23 Power Echols, So.

ILB#33 Cedric Gray, Jr.

CB# 1 Tony Girmes, Jr.

BS#27 Giovanni Biggers, Sr.

FS# 9 Cam’Ron Kelly, Sr.

CB# 3 Storm Duck, Jr.

STAR#16 DeAndre Boykins, So. Special Teams

K#98 Noah Burnette, So.

KOS#98 Noah Burnette, So.

P#91 Ben Kiernan, Sr.

LS#61 Drew Little, Sr.

H#91 Ben Kiernan, Sr.

KR#28 Omarion Hampton, Fr.

PR# 9 Cam’Ron Kelly, Sr.


Virginia Tech Offense

QB# 6 Grant Wells, Jr.

RB#23 Keshawn King, Jr.

WR#80 Kaleb Smith, Sr.

WR# 2 Jadan Blue, Sr.

WR# 3 Da’Wain Lofton, So.

TE#86 Nick Gallo, Sr. OR # 4 Connor Blumrick, Sr.

LT#60 Silas Dzansi, Sr.

LG#72 Jesse Hanson, Jr.

C#55 Johnny Jordan, Sr.

RG#68 Kaden Moore, So.

RT#70 Paker Clements, So. Defense

DE#45 TyJuan Garbutt, Sr.

DT# 3 Norell Pollard, Sr.

DT#22 Mario Kendricks, Sr. OR # 6 Josh Fuga, Jr.

DE#41 Jaylen Griffin, Sr. OR #17 Cole Nelson, So.

WILL#21 Kell Lawson, RFr. OR #24 Jaden Keller, RFr.

MIKE# 4 Dax Hollifield, Sr.

SAM# 7 Keonta Jenkins, Jr.

CB# 8 Brion Murray, Sr.

S# 1 Chamarri Conner, Sr.

S# 5 Nasir Peoples, Sr.

CB# 9 Armani Chatman, Sr. Special Teams

PK#92 William Ross, Jr.

KO#83 Kyle Lowe, So.

P#85 Peter Moore, So.

LS#99 Justin Pollock, Jr.

H#85 Peter Moore, So.

KR#28 Chance Black, RFr.

PR#20 DJ Harvey, RFr



Game Information

Location: Kenan Stadium, Chapel Hill, NC

Time: 3:30 PM

TV: ACC Network

Radio: Tar Heel Sports Network (check local affiliates)



Weather Information (courtesy of The Weather Channel)

Temperature: 64° F

Conditions: Cloudy

Wind: WSW 10 mph

Chance of Rain: 7%

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