Hokies provide varying challenges for Tar Heels
UNC needs win for ACC title run
North Carolina shouldn’t be surprised by No. 16 Virginia Tech’s defensive scheme.
The Hokie defense often loads the box with eight maroon and burnt-orange jerseys, a tactic used to stifle the run and put pressure on the quarterback.
Last week, the Tar Heels got a nibble of it.
“You know, Florida State did that a little bit too, and we kind of got caught be surprise by that,” senior offensive guard Alan Pelc said.
“It’s kind of hard playing with a lot of guys in the box, and like I said, they blitz a lot and everything else, so it’s a little bit different game planning for this week.”
If North Carolina (6-3, 3-2 ACC) wins, it will bring the Tar Heels within a game of the Hokies’ unblemished 5-0 ACC record. But game planning will be key.
With eight players in the box, the Hokies leave the secondary with just three defenders. But what Virginia Tech lacks in coverage, it makes up pass-rush pressure.
“It certainly does free up the passing game, but at the same time, with a lot of guys in the box, you have to be able to protect it,” wide receiver Josh Adams said.
But the Hokies will present challenges for UNC across the board. On defense, the Tar Heels will face dual-threat quarterback Tyrod Taylor.
Taylor is having the best season of his career and, while he’s always been a threat when he tucks the ball away, he has demonstrated that his arm deserves respect.
“(He’s a) very dangerous guy,” safety Deunta Williams said.
“He knows how to win. And whenever you’re facing someone that knows how to win, no matter if they’re playing golf, or tennis or whatever it is, they make situations. They make opportunities for themselves to make big plays.”
And perhaps the most barefaced challenge facing UNC will be defending the Hokies’ famed special teams.
Virginia Tech ranks first in the ACC in kickoff returns and second in punt returns. UNC has, at times, struggled to produce in those areas and has especially struggled in defending them.
“(Special teams are) always a challenge when you play V. Tech,” Williams said. “You’ve got to be very fundamentally sound, but I think we’ve answered the bell every time we’ve played them so far, since I’ve been here. And we look forward to doing that again.”
To keep its ACC Championship hopes alive, UNC must beat Va. Tech and then hope the Hokies hiccup later in the season.
Postseason scenarios may be more difficult for the Tar Heels to ignore, but not impossible.
“That’s just natural for a team or an individual to think like that,” senior running back Anthony Elzy said.
“Of course we do talk about it, but we try not to talk about it so much as to where it is a distraction for us. … When it’s time to focus and buckle down to talk about a certain team and what we have to do, we’re pretty good at accomplishing that goal.”