The No. 10 North Carolina football team lost to Virginia Tech, 17-10, in its season-opening game in Blacksburg.
UNC’s defensive unit saw the field first and quickly started to give up yards, notably a 33-yard pass to Hokie running back Raheem Blackshear. Virginia Tech advanced down the field with little trouble, capping off the drive with a four-yard touchdown run from quarterback Braxton Burmeister that put the Hokies on the board in just five minutes.
A 13-yard completion to Josh Downs gave the Tar Heels a first down in their opening drive, but that’s all the Tar Heels could muster, punting the ball four snaps later. The Hokies picked up right where they left off, making their way down the field off mostly short runs. On North Carolina’s 10-yard line, senior defensive back Trey Morrison forced a fumble and the ball fell into Tar Heel hands, stopping a potential second Virginia Tech score.
UNC quarterback Sam Howell connected with Emery Simmons on a 22-yard pass to jump start the next offensive possession. On third down, Howell scrambled for a 14-yard gain to keep the drive alive. The Tar Heels got within field goal territory on the Virginia Tech 30 yard-line, but a massive sack pushed UNC back 13 yards and forced the team to punt once again.
The Hokies continued to execute their offensive game plan, and added another score with an 11-yard touchdown pass to tight end James Mitchell. UNC had two more drives in the half but still could not put points on the board, and entered the half down 14-0.
The Tar Heels saw some promise in their second drive of the third quarter with two big scrambles from Howell putting them on Virginia Tech’s 38 yard-line. However, a pass attempt to sophomore wide receiver Justin Olson was picked off by a Hokie corner, immediately erasing all momentum for UNC.
The Tar Heels saw another opportunity in their next drive though, and this time they did not let it go to waste. Three-straight pass completions from Howell, including a 37-yard touchdown pass to Downs, cut the Virginia Tech lead in half, 14-7.
The UNC defense got an important third-and-twelve stop to start the fourth quarter, but the Hokies’ 48-yard field goal attempt was good, putting them up 10 points. Later in the quarter, UNC and Virginia Tech would swap interceptions as the Tar Heels again squandered an offensive opportunity.
A missed field goal from Virginia Tech gave UNC the ball with nine minutes remaining, and the following 66-yard drive ended in a field goal to cut UNC’s deficit to seven.
Who stood out?
While it may be too early to tell who Sam Howell’s number one option will be this season, Downs stuck out among all other UNC receivers this game. His 208-yard outing was highlighted by a 37-yard touchdown reception, which also happened to be Howell’s 69th career touchdown, a school record.
Burmeister did everything he needed to under center for the Hokies, throwing 12/19 for 169 yards and rushing for 42 yards and a touchdown.
Virginia Tech’s defense was exceptional, racking up six sacks and three interceptions. The Hokies put unrelenting pressure on Howell, while their cornerbacks were effective in shutting down many of UNC’s receivers.
When was it decided?
Down seven with three minutes left on the clock, Howell marched his offense 47 yards past midfield to Virginia Tech’s 40 yard-line. With 37 seconds left and all three timeouts, Howell found himself under pressure once again, being chased down by a Hokie defender. Howell threw his third interception of the game in a desperate attempt to get rid of the ball, essentially putting the nail in the coffin for UNC.
Virginia Tech ran the clock down to zero and secured the 17-10 upset.
Why does it matter?
Following an offseason dominated by hype, this could not have been the start UNC envisioned to begin the season.
While playing at Virginia Tech was never a gimme, UNC’s offense looked out of sorts. Howell didn’t play up to his Heisman-level potential, and the Tar Heel running backs couldn’t get much done on the ground. Only putting 10 points on the board is certainly a cause for concern moving forward.
It’s clear that this team will be missing Javonte Williams and Michael Carter, as the offense looks to work on its chemistry in next week’s home opener.
When do they play next?
The Tar Heels will have their home opener against Georgia State next Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.