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Thursday October 21st

Preview: Three keys to No. 8 UNC, No. 19 Virginia Tech's top-20 clash

<p>Sophomore running back Michael Carter (8) runs through a group of opposing players during the Tar Heels' 22-19 loss against Virginia Tech on the night of Saturday, October 13, 2018 in Kenan Memorial Stadium in Chapel Hill, NC.</p>
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Sophomore running back Michael Carter (8) runs through a group of opposing players during the Tar Heels' 22-19 loss against Virginia Tech on the night of Saturday, October 13, 2018 in Kenan Memorial Stadium in Chapel Hill, NC.

The No. 8 UNC football team will play its first game in front of fans at Kenan Memorial Stadium Saturday at noon against No. 19 Virginia Tech. 

Both teams are heading into the game undefeated and are tied for first with two other teams in the ACC. They will be each other's first ranked opponent, and the matchup will be the first chance for the teams to prove they deserve their respective rankings.

Even though the teams meet annually, the Tar Heels haven’t defeated the Hokies since 2015 in former VT head coach Frank Beamer’s final home game. Last year, UNC fell short by just two points in a six-overtime thriller against the Hokies. 

Despite entering Saturday's game ranked in the top-10 of the AP Top 25 Poll for the first time since 2015, UNC is only a slight favorite against Virginia Tech. Here are three keys to watch for this Saturday.

Run Game

The 2020 Hokies have featured a dominant running offense, rushing for an average of 319 yards per game. Running back Khalil Herbert played a key role in last week’s win over Duke, setting a school record of 358 all-purpose yards and leading the Hokies with 12 yards per carry, good for the top spot in the country. 

UNC, who also boasts one of the nation’s top rushing attacks, is one of the best when it comes to defending against the run. The Tar Heels allowed just 40 rushing yards on 19 carries in last Saturday’s win over Boston College. 

Injury Report

Virginia Tech has faced uncertainty on both sides of the ball, as more than 20 players and several coaches missed both of its first two games. 

This uncertainty came to a head at the quarterback position with expected starter Hendon Hooker quarantined at the start of the season. Backup QB Braxton Burmeister was able to take over the offense and lead the Hokies to victory, but lacked accuracy in his passes against Duke. 

Although Hooker has been cleared to play this Saturday, VT has not released a statement about who will start.

UNC’s secondary has also taken some hits as corner Storm Duck exited the Boston College game due to injury; his status is still unknown. Safety Myles Wolfolk has also been ruled ineligible for the season for academic reasons, and has since entered the transfer portal. 

Red Zone

The Virginia Tech defense has struggled to fend off opponents when it counts — teams are a perfect six for six in red zone touchdowns against the Hokies. Both N.C. State and Duke turned three red zone visits each into three touchdowns in the first two games of Virginia Tech’s season.

UNC, on the other hand, has converted on each trip it has made resulting in two field goals, one in each game, and five touchdowns, including four against Syracuse and one against Boston College. The Tar Heels should expect success if they make it far enough downfield.

@baddour_lauren

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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