It was the Tar Heels’ worst home loss since a 34-0 shutout at the hands of Louisville in ‘04.
If the UNC defensive coaches were on the receiving end of a John Bunting tirade last Sunday, the offensive coaches better be prepared for a similar tongue-lashing from Carolina’s sixth-year head coach.
“It comes down to one thing: Score when you have the opportunity,” Bunting said.
After yielding 362 total yards to Rutgers last week, UNC (0-1 ACC, 0-2 overall) held the Hokies (2-0, 1-0) to just 224 yards.
But not only did UNC quarterbacks throw frequent interceptions, their impacts were excessively punitive, yielding a decisive 141 return yards.
“No goal is really accomplished if we don’t win,” said linebacker Durell Mapp, who was back in the starting lineup this week. “We gotta win.”
Sophomore tailback Branden Ore ran for 111 yards and three touchdowns to lead Virginia Tech.
“We just tried to come out and see what we could do first before we started running the ball,” Ore said. “We just figured out their weaknesses and we attacked them in the second half.”
Carolina had its chances early after a 34-yard punt return by Brandon Tate set up a Connor Barth 46-yard field goal and put UNC up 3-0.
Larry Edwards then recovered a fumbled snap by Tech quarterback Sean Glennon, which gave Carolina a first down at the Hokies’ 35. But instead of moving towards the opponents’ end zone, UNC retreated for minus-18 yards on three plays.
The Tar Heels’ defense held the Hokies in check, but Xavier Adibi intercepted a Joe Dailey offering and rumbled 40 yards to the 1, and Tech easily scored on a one-yard plunge by Ore.
Trailing 7-3 in the second quarter, UNC came up with another big defensive play when Brian Rackley stuffed VT tailback George Bell and forced a fumble, which Cooter Arnold scooped up to give the ball back to Carolina with excellent field position at the Hokies’ 29.
But three plays later, Dailey tried to force a pass into Jesse Holley, who was double-covered in the end zone. Rover Aaron Rouse made the interception in full stride on his way to a 28-yard return.
Hokies coach Frank Beamer said, “With the field position we had in the whole first quarter…we’ve got to play great defense.”
Again, Carolina’s defense refused to yield a time-consuming drive. However, Virginia Tech blocked a punt and Jason Adjepong returned the ball to the UNC 1. Ore later scored his second rushing touchdown from four yards out.
It was Tech’s third block in two games, and its 111th blocked kick (56th punt) in 229 games under Beamer’s command.
As the clock wound down to intermission, redshirt freshman Cam Sexton replaced Dailey at quarterback for the Tar Heels, and remained in the game into the second half.
With the Tar Heels unable to move the ball, Tech effectively put the game out of reach by executing a eight-play, 55-yard drive that culminated in a three-yard Ore touchdown run to make the score 20-3 with 5:00 to play in the third quarter.
The key play came on a 3rd and long, when with UNC blitzing, Glennon found Ore on a screen in the backfield. Ore stutter-stepped by the pursuit of Kyndraus Guy for 22 yards.
Dailey returned late in the third quarter, before finishing 10-of-17 passing for 55 yards. Perhaps the Tar Heels’ most effective ball-carrier, Dailey ran for 18 of UNC’s 89 rushing yards.
With Sexton (9-of-21 for 124 yards) calling the plays the Tar Heels weren’t much better, and his fourth quarter interception was returned 69 yards by Brenden Hill for another Hokies touchdown. Sexton threw his second pick on UNC’s next possession.
And two plays later, backup quarterback Ike Whitaker found true freshman tight end Greg Boone for a 41-yard touchdown hookup.
Sexton did engineer the Tar Heels final scoring drive – eight plays, 80 yards – capped by a 19-yard touchdown pass to Brooks Foster.
“It was great to throw my first touchdown, but after that two seconds is over, you’re driven right back down because you know we’re losing a football game,” Sexton said.
UNC tries for its first win of the season next Saturday versus I-AA Furman, before hitting the road to No. 18 Clemson and then No. 17 Miami following a bye week.
Holley said, “We’re going to be down a little bit from this game, but when Monday comes, it’s all behind us. We have to keep going out there ... one practice and one game at a time.”