This season’s schedule has been unusual for North Carolina. When it hosts Virginia Tech on Saturday, it will be the Tar Heels’ third game in 22 days and only their second home game of the season.
Its first home game, against UCF on Sept. 15, was canceled due to Hurricane Florence.
The unexpected week off gave the Tar Heels, which had started the season 0-2, a chance to reset and focus on its Sept. 22 home game against Pitt. And it helped. UNC ended up beating the Panthers 38-35 in its only win of the season.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The News & Observer
But the Tar Heels lost again five days later, when they got beat 47-10 by Miami on national TV. UNC had six turnovers against the Hurricanes, but UNC coach Larry Fedora said Monday that he wouldn’t use the schedule as a reason, saying, “you have to deal with whatever situation that comes up.”
“I’ve very pleased with the way they’ve come out to practice and their attitudes,” Fedora said Monday at his weekly press conference. “The effort that they give out there, they are making each day important. They know if it’s important on Saturday night it has to be important on Sunday or Monday.”
The Tar Heels (1-3, 1-1 ACC) are coming off a bye week, and the extra time off gave the team time to work on fundamentals and give extra reps to younger players. It also gave coaches more time to evaluate UNC’s quarterback situation.
Junior Nation Elliott has started every game this season; sophomore Chazz Surratt made his 2018 debut against the Hurricanes after sitting out four games for selling team-issued sneakers.
Surratt threw three interceptions against Miami, while Elliott completed 16 of 25 passes for 104 yards. However, Elliott’s longest pass only covered 20 yards. Against Virginia Tech coach Bud Foster’s defense on Saturday, the Tar Heels will have to show more of a threat when throwing the ball down the field.
“(Virginia Tech is) young in some places on defense, but Bud (Foster) is always going to do a great job,” Fedora said. “He’s going to always have them ready to play and they are always going to do things a different from a lot of other teams. Schematically, they’re the same that they’ve always been. They are always going to give you multiple looks and move the defensive front, pre-snap and post snap. In the secondary there is always going to be a lot of different looks back there.”
Fedora wouldn’t say which quarterback he’d start against the Hokies, a team that has picked off five passes and sacked its opponents’ quarterbacks 14.0 times this season. Elliott, who threw all four of his interceptions this season against California in the first game of the year, averages 193.3 passing yards per game and has completed 75 out of 129 pass attempts.
In Surratt’s one game this season, he threw for 10 yards and completed 4 out of 10 passes. Fedora said on Monday that the sophomore needs to improve on his decision making while on the field.
Fedora said ball protection is one of the main things he’s looking for but wouldn’t say if both quarterbacks will play against Virginia Tech (3-2, 2-0).
The Tar Heels have one of the best receivers in the ACC in junior Anthony Ratliff-Williams, along with several talented running backs. However, UNC is at the bottom of the league when it comes to total offense, averaging just 378 yards per game.
Even though the Hokies are coming off of a 22-point loss to Notre Dame, they have outscored the Tar Heels 93-10 in their last two meetings. The 7 p.m. kickoff, however, plays in favor of the Tar Heels, who are 5-0 in Kenan Stadium under Fedora in night games.
Virginia Tech at UNC
When: 7 p.m., Saturday
Where: Kenan Stadium, Chapel Hill