Schedule Preview: Virginia Tech

(USAToday/Shirey)

North Carolina will look to win its ACC home opener in a pivotal Coastal Division matchup with Virginia Tech on Oct. 4.

Overview: Since joining the ACC in 2004, head coach Frank Beamer’s program has been a consistent force in the Coastal Division. From ‘04-11, the Hokies won at least 10 games every season, and have won the regular season division title five times. Over the past two years, however, Beamer’s squads went a disappointing 4-4 (4th Coastal) in ’12 before rebounding for a more a more respectable 5-3 record (2nd Coastal) last season.

In 2013, it looked as though that the Beamer had turned things around with a strong 6-1 start (with the only loss coming to Alabama). Halfway through October, though, things began to fall apart. Going 2-4 in their final six games was difficult enough, but disappointing losses to Boston College and Maryland, as well as a blowout bowl loss to UCLA, kept the winningest active coach in college football frustrated.

The biggest question facing this team this fall is who will start at quarterback. Fans undoubtedly have mixed feelings about the graduation of Logan Thomas, a player that was blessed with a number of physical abilities, but was highly prone to turning the ball over. Now, this coaching staff faces the fear of the unknown as potentially four signal callers are in the hunt to take over the starting job. After spring camp, the leading candidates appeared to be red-shirt senior Mike Leak (who faired poorly in mop up duty in the team’s blowout loss to UCLA in the Sun Bowl), and red-shirt sophomore Brendan Motley. That being said, Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer and freshman Chris Durkin haven’t been ruled out. At a charity golf tournament, Beamer told reporters that they “weren’t settled” at the quarterback position, but that it was an “exciting situation.”

Whoever does end up under center will have a stable wide receiving corps at his disposal. The team’s top three receiving options are all returning. Together, Willie Byrn, Demitri Knowles and Joshua Stanford combined for 106 catches, 1,941 yards and six touchdowns in 2013. Normally, Beamer-coached teams have relied heavily on a bruising ground game, but with the injury status of starting running back Trey Edmunds (675 yards rushing, 10 TD) in question, the onus of shouldering the bulk of the carries falls on junior J.C. Coleman, who has just one career start.

While this team has spent the last few years struggling on offense, Frank Beamer’s defense was as stout as ever in 2013. Opposing offenses averaged a paltry 283 yards per game (4th-best in the country) and combined for only 21 touchdowns on the season. This unit was also able to get to opposing quarterbacks early and often, averaging three sacks per game (T-8th in the country). Linebackers Jack Taylor and Tariq Edwards and their 174 combined tackles are gone, as is All-American cornerback Kyle Fuller (selected 14th overall in the 2104 NFL Draft).

New challenges now face this defense. Apart from Josh Trimble and Ronny Vandyke (who is coming off a serious shoulder injury), there are a lot of new faces vying to see time at the heart of the Tech defense. As for the secondary, sophomore Kendall Fuller looks as though he could be the heir apparent to Kyle Fuller as the anchor of the secondary. After being named the ACC’s defensive rookie of the year, even more will be expected of the Baltimore native if this group is going to remain the backbone of the program.

Quotables
““I think we’ve got to take a direction pretty quickly in the fall. I’ve got to sit down and talk with [offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler] and the offensive coaches. I think we’ve got to take a direction and move in that direction and not take long,” - Beamer in an interview with Fredericksburg.com

Historical Outlook: Since 1895, the Hokies have traditionally done very well against UNC. Overall, Tech. is 20-11-6 all-time. What’s even worse is that since they joined the ACC, UNC is an abysmal 2-8 against the Hokies, including five straight losses from 2004-08.

Notable Matchups: All eyes will be on the coaches when two of the game’s best square off at the Horseshoe in Columbus on Sept. 6. After dealing with NCAA violations, Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer looks as though he’s brought another juggernaut program back to life, while Beamer will be looking for a much-needed high-profile victory to reestablish his program at the top of the ACC.

 

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