For those who are curious how Virginia Tech has been able to dominate this year despite large numbers missing from its roster, look no further than Khalil Herbert. The Kansas transfer has 311 yards on 25 carries in just two games, and is first in the country averaging 12 yards a carry. The UNC defense has been looking to Herbert as one of the biggest issues for this weekend.
Linebackers Jeremiah Gemmel and Tomari Fox both know the 5-foot-9 running back will be highly depended upon. But they feel they have a better advantage at stopping him due to frequent in-practice drills against 5-foot-9 Michael Carter, who is considered one of the better smaller running backs in the country. After keeping Syracuse to 68 yards and Boston College to just 40 yards on the ground, North Carolina intends to stuff the run game and not give Herbert the space to cause havoc.
“Effort and intensity are two things we like to lean on a lot,” Fox said. “If you’re going to play against us, you’re going to have to play all four quarters. That’s not to be cocky, but that’s our mindset as a defense.”
If Virginia Tech’s rushing game isn’t the nail in the coffin, causing the UNC defense to watch film on three different quarterbacks might be.
Quarterback Hendon Hooker — who was pegged as the preseason starter — missed the first two games this season, giving junior Braxton Burmeister the opportunity to throw for 269 yards and one touchdown. The large-framed Burmeister also had 100 rushing yards in those two games. With Hooker healthy this week, it is a coin toss for who will get the start.
That also leaves redshirt sophomore Quincy Patterson as the third on the depth chart. UNC fans should be familiar with Patterson, as the 6-foot-4, 240-pound quarterback was a key part of closing out the second half and six overtimes of the win last year.
“All three are very good and all three are very capable of playing,” Fox said. “Any one of them could damage us.”
Though the Tar Heels have plenty to prepare for this weekend, they said they are excited for the boost that will come from playing in front of a crowd for the first time since December 2019.
“It’ll be good to have people back in the stands, especially my family,” Howell said. “It’ll definitely be exciting to not have an empty stadium this week, so that’s something we’re definitely looking forward to.”
The Tar Heels are no-doubt in a tough spot this weekend — they must defend their top-10 ranking, but also defeat a conference rival for the first time in five years in front of a reduced home crowd.
“One loss during this college football season would be tragic,” Gemmel said. “It could end up taking us out of the seeding for the ACC championship that’s ultimately our goal.”
@DTHSports | firstname.lastname@example.org