Perhaps Florida State isn’t what everyone thought the Seminoles would be. But going to Tallahassee and coming away with a victory is obviously cause for celebration. For head coach Larry Fedora and his North Carolina Tar Heels, it was a signature win that catapulted UNC to No. 17 in the AP Poll.
The Heels, though, have another important battle this week; a game that is perhaps even more vital in their efforts to repeat as Coastal Division champs. Division foe Virginia Tech invades Chapel Hill and after fumbling away a game against Tennessee, the Hokies have blown out Boston College andEast Carolina, leading to a No. 25 ranking.
Virginia Tech has the edge in the series at 19-10-4.
Virginia Tech at North Carolina
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 8 at 3:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ABC/ESPN2
Spread: North Carolina -3
Three Things to Watch
1. North Carolina Passing Game vs. the Virginia Tech Pass Defense
If you’re looking for an under-the-radar Heisman candidate, UNC quarterback Mitch Trubisky could be your man. The junior signal-caller has completed 76 percent of his passes with 13 touchdowns and no interceptions. His deep wide receiver corps gives him plenty of options, but Ryan Switzer and his 47 catches gets Trubisky’s first look. Virginia Tech, however, is 10th in the FBS in pass defense giving up just 151 yards per game. Brandon Facyson, Mook Reynolds, Greg Stroman, and the rest of the Hokies' ball-hawking secondary will be attempting to end Trubisky’s streak of 240 passes thrown without an interception.
2. Health of Elijah Hood
The junior from Charlotte left the game against Florida State in the first half with an undisclosed injury. The Tar Heel offense has been carried by Trubisky and the receivers so far this season, as the unit has averaged only 136 yards per game on the ground. But against a team like Virginia Tech that has considerable defensive talent, North Carolina will need to achieve some offensive balance. T.J. Logan has had a very good season so far, but ideally North Carolina would prefer to use him as a change-of -pace and third down option. Ideally, the Heels also would like for Hood to get back to the form that saw him run for more than 1,400 yards last year and being healthy is the first step.
3. Virginia Tech Rushing Attack
Once again, North Carolina gave up more than 200 rushing yards last week and currently sit at No. 116 nationally in rush defense. But considering that the Tar Heels were going against Florida State’s Dalvin Cook, in a lot of ways it was not a bad effort. Cook did have 140 yards and three touchdowns, but his longest run from scrimmage was 14 yards and he had to work hard for everything he gained. The Hokies have rushed for nearly 200 yards per game, so UNC will have to be wary of Virginia Tech running back Travon McMillian. Quarterback Jerod Evans, who’s gotten off to a great start throwing the football, is a major rushing threat as well. If Virginia Tech has success on the ground, its offense will be difficult to stop.
There are several questions to ponder when analyzing this matchup. Which star quarterback will have more success? Can North Carolina stop the run? Can Virginia Tech hold on to the ball or will the Hokies revert back to their earlier fumbling ways? And perhaps most importantly, can the Tar Heels come up big again following the win at Florida State? After getting an extra week to prepare for the Heels, Virginia Tech goes into Kenan Stadium and pulls off the upset.
Prediction: Virginia Tech 34, North Carolina 28
— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.