After a disjointed start to the season for both teams, a bit of rhythm will be established this Saturday when Virginia Tech visits North Carolina. The Hokies look to get on the field for the third week in a row while the Heels will suit up in consecutive weeks for the first time in 2020.
Both programs are right where they want to be record-wise, sitting at 2-0 both overall and in the ACC. Virginia Tech was not as crisp in the victory over Duke as they were in their season-opener while Carolina thwarted a Boston College two-point conversion — and turned it into two points of their own — in the final moments to preserve a 26-22 victory.
Last year, Virginia Tech won a five-overtime thriller over North Carolina, 43-41.
Virginia Tech at North Carolina
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 10 at 12 p.m. ET
Spread: North Carolina -5.5
When Virginia Tech Has the Ball
The question is obvious, who is going to start at quarterback this week? At this moment, Hokies head coach Justin Fuente has left everyone in limbo. Hendon Hooker, after a successful run at the close of last year, was part of a large group of Virginia Tech players that have missed time due to COVID-19 protocols. Braxton Burmeister has taken the reigns and his play has been so-so at best, completing just 44 percent of his passes.
Despite Burmeister's struggles, Virginia Tech has averaged 41.5 points in their first two games thanks to the running of Khalil Herbert. The Kansas transfer currently leads the nation with 155.5 rushing yards per game and is averaging a stunning 12 yards per carry. During Fuente's time in Blacksburg, the running game has consistently averaged 175 to 180 yards per game. Herbert's efforts, along with those of fellow transfer Raheem Blackshear and Burmeister carrying the ball on his own, have pushed Tech's output to 319 rushing yards per game.
But when it comes to stopping the run, no team in America has done it better than North Carolina so far this season. The Heels have allowed just 108 rushing yards in their two games and have yet to allow a rushing touchdown. The interior defensive linemen have done a great job holding up so that linebackers Chazz Surratt and Tomon Fox can make plays. This will be a classic battle of strength vs. strength.
When North Carolina Has the Ball
The Tar Heels have in large part relied on their defense to win the first two games while waiting for the Carolina offense to really quick. The results haven't been bad, it's just that they haven't reached the lofty expectations that many had coming into the season.
Sam Howell in particular has not gotten off to the start that he had hoped for. The UNC quarterback is completing 65 percent of his throws with an average of 260 passing yards per game. But he also has just three touchdowns and has thrown three picks. Dyami Brown and Beau Corrales have combined for 17 catches but Dazz Newsome has not yet been a big factor after going over 1,000 receiving yards in 2019.
Virginia Tech linebackers Rayshard Ashby and Dax Hollifield have done a very good job against the run, so the impact of UNC running backs Michael Carter and Javonte Williams may be limited this week. The question mark concerning the Hokies' defense so far has been in coverage. Virginia Tech has 13 sacks in two games, so pressure is not an issue. But the Hokies also allowed 247 passing yards to NC State and 271 yards to Duke.
Though they have not really put it into high gear yet in 2020, the Carolina passing game is much more explosive than those featured by the Wolfpack or Blue Devils.
What Virginia Tech has done so far this season has been nothing short of amazing. With postponements to start the year followed by two games with a limited roster and shorthanded coaching staff, a lackluster start would have been expected. But the Hokies are not only 2-0, but they have also looked impressive in their two wins. North Carolina, on the other hand, has been somewhat pedestrian in their victories. But that changes this week. UNC will open things up through the air and Dazz Newsome will make his presence felt. The Carolina defense will make Khalil Herbert work and their defensive front will get after whoever is playing quarterback. It will be another tight contest, but North Carolina plays their best game of the year and wins.
Prediction: North Carolina 34, Virginia Tech 28
Podcast: Week 6 Preview and Predictions
— Written by Jon Kinne, who has been part of the Athlon Contributor Network for three years, covering the ACC and Notre Dame. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.