North Carolina (6-4, 3-3 ACC) scored on its opening drive for the fifth time in six games, picking up five first downs in a 8-play, 80-yard drive that ended with Anthony Elzy’s one-yard touchdown run. That score would serve as the lone touchdown of the first half, however, as Virginia Tech’s Chris Hazley booted a pair of field goals (52, 38) to narrow the deficit to 7-6. Casey Barth (20) and Hazley (26) exchanged field goals in the second quarter as UNC took a 10-9 lead into halftime.
The second half belonged to Virginia Tech (8-2, 6-0 ACC). Tyrod Taylor (13-of-28 passing, 249 yards, 2 TD) connected with Marcus Davis twice on 3rd-and-longs in the red zone for touchdown passes of 11 and 13 yards, respectively, and Hazley added another field goal (23) to finalize the scoring.
Darren Evans (90 rushing yards) and Ryan Williams (83 rushing yards) balanced Taylor’s passing attack as the Hokies outgained UNC, 418-314, after only two yards separated the programs at halftime.
T.J. Yates has been effective throwing the deep ball for North Carolina in recent weeks, but Virginia Tech was prepared with safety help on Saturday, intercepting three deep pass attempts – two to Dwight Jones and one to Josh Adams.
Yates, who set UNC’s career completion record (711) and tied Darian Durant’s mark for attempts (1,159), threw as many interceptions against the Hokies (4) as he had all season. The Marietta, Ga. senior completed 18 of his 33 passing attempts for 197 yards with no touchdowns.
INSIDE THE GAME
Taylor Thrives Through the Air
UNC head coach Butch Davis often emphasizes the need to make opponents one-dimensional, and the Tar Heels have succeeded over the past four years in limiting Tyrod Taylor’s dual abilities at quarterback.
In 46 career games, the Hokie senior is averaging 46.0 rushing yards per game, but the Tar Heels have employed a containment approach that has essentially cut off his legs. In four games against UNC, Taylor has averaged 10.0 per game at a 0.9-yards-per-rush clip.
North Carolina held the senior to negative yards on the ground (minus-3 yards on eight carries) for the second consecutive year on Saturday, utilizing a strategy to keep him in the pocket and make him to beat the secondary with his arm.
Davis pointed out that Taylor had roughly 80 scrambles in his first nine games, forcing the coaching staff to focus on limiting those opportunities.
“You have to build your defensive philosophy of not allowing him to drop back and pass and scramble and make a first down to keep a drive alive,” Davis said. “We did some of the things that were very effective for us last year… He’s a good athlete and he’s going to make some plays. He throws the ball better than people give him credit for.”
The stats confirm that comment. Taylor entered the game ranked eighth nationally in passing efficiency (163.3) and performed close to that level against UNC, completing 13 of his 28 passes for 249 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.
“Tyrod has definitely improved over the years,” senior cornerback Kendric Burney said. “But at the same time, we’ve got to play the coverages better. There were a couple of times where I didn’t do what I needed to do and I’ll take the full blame, but as a team, we’ve definitely got to play better and cut out the mistakes.”
Taylor already owns the career records at VT in rushing yards by a quarterback (2,118) and total offense (8,380), and now stands roughly 150 passing yards from that career mark as well.
Third Quarter Debacle
Virginia Tech ranks in the top-40 nationally in 13 statistical categories, with no less than three of those marks in each of the three phases of the game – offense, defense and special teams. Those numbers imply that an opposing team must be solid across the board, or else things can get out of hand rather quickly.
Example A – North Carolina’s third quarter on Saturday.
The Hokies took their opening drive of the second half and marched down the field, but UNC’s defense forced a 3rd-and-10 at its 11-yard-line. Defensive coordinator Everett Withers dialed up a blitz, but the Virginia Tech offensive line held and Taylor connected with Marcus Davis for an 11-yard touchdown pass with All-ACC cornerback Kendric Burney defending.
North Carolina’s ensuing possession delivered two penalties, a sack and a botched 29-yard punt by C.J. Feagles that gave Virginia Tech the ball at midfield. A 43-yard pass play to Danny Coale and a face mask penalty later, the Hokies found themselves in position for a Hazley 23-yard field goal.
Virginia Tech would get the ball back two plays later, however, as Yates threw into double coverage 60 yards down the field and was picked off by Jayron Hosley. The Tar Heel defense held and forced a quick Virginia Tech punt, but Da’Norris Searcy slipped when trying to field the kick and touched the ball in the process.
The Hokies recovered on UNC’s 29-yard-line and needed just five plays to score its 17th point of the third quarter on a 13-yard touchdown reception by Davis.
In the first 12:29 of the third quarter, Virginia Tech outgained the Tar Heels, 141 to (-4), in turning a 10-9 deficit into a 26-10 lead.
Losing the Double Positive
The North Carolina coaching staff stresses the importance of winning the “double positive” every Saturday morning following the team’s pregame meal. UNC is undefeated on the season when winning that statistic, which combines turnover margin and explosive plays (passes over 18 yards and runs over 12 yards).
The Tar Heels split the difference in the first half with regard to the “double positive,” notching six explosive plays to Virginia Tech’s four while losing the turnover battle, 1-0.
Things got ugly after halftime, however, as the Hokies won both the turnover (5-0) and explosive play (3-1) battles over the final 30 minutes.
“Our coaches have done a great job of really trying to emphasize the idea that the margin of success is very tight with this football team and that we’ve got to play as well as we can about protecting the football and not giving up big plays, and unfortunately tonight, we just didn’t do that,” Davis said.