North Carolina continues the season against Virginia Tech on Saturday at Kenan Stadium. Andy Bittercovers Virginia Tech for the Roanoke Times. I asked him some questions about the Hokies (and answered some of his questions about the Tar Heels right here).
But the interceptions have been problematic. Brewer has 10 in five games, a rate that would make even Logan Thomas blush. Yeah, the Hokies have piled up yards and are probably more capable of throwing the ball this year than last, but their offense is most effective when they run the ball and don’t have to go to the air as their only option. I think Tech will be able to move the ball by passing but if it can’t run, that offense just doesn’t look the same.
Brewer has that. The line’s not great, but it’s a year older and probably improved. Ford and Phillips are as promising of receivers as Tech’s had in years. Hodges, at 6-foot-6, 244 pounds, has an NFL future at tight end, having only played the position for a year now (he actually first moved over from quarterback last year to mimic Eric Ebron on the scout team during UNC week). Malleck is back after missing all of last year with a shoulder injury. And the running backs, despite losing Shai McKenzie to a knee injury, are deeper, with 230-pound freshman Masrhawn Williams emerging as the No. 1 guy and Trey Edmunds just now getting healthy.
Add in the fact that this year 2 in Scot Loeffler’s offense, and the natural improvement you’ll see from being more comfortable in the scheme, and yes, I’d say the offense looks better under Brewer, even if the stats are only minimally better.
That leaves junior Donovan Riley, who has been burned a few times, and sophomore Chuck Clark, who might be better suited at safety, filling in at cornerback. Both will be on the field quite a bit this game, with Tech likely using almost exclusively a nickel package. So that right there is enough to think the Hokies are more vulnerable on the back end than what people thought coming into the year. That said, ECU is still the only team that really had a ton of success throwing the ball with any consistency. And most of that was the Pirates’ receivers simply going up and winning one-on-one battles for jump balls time after time, the same kind of play that the Hokies did well to prevent the week before at Ohio State. It might come down to how well UNC’s receivers can play the ball.
Overall, I’d say it’s probably not quite as good of a defense as Virginia Tech had last year. It’s not as experienced, particularly in the defensive front. And losing Maddy, an All-ACC candidate, on the inside for the next few weeks with a knee injury is a blow. Foster described him as Tech’s “bell cow.” I think the Hokies’ front can still be effective, but sometimes they have to commit more guys into shutting down the run, which opens things up on the back end in single coverage. Foster’s willing to take that gamble, but as ECU showed, if the receivers are winning those one-on-ones down the field, it can makes for a long day.