UNC actually outgained Virginia Tech (306 yards to 241) and won the time of possession battle (34 minutes to 26). But turnovers once again killed UNC. A fumble ended a 10-play, 80-yard drive at VT’s one-yard line, while an interception on the following possession set up the Hokies’ game-winning touchdown.
“The one thing [that you can’t overcome], and it will always be this way, is the turnovers,” Davis said. “It’s the curse of trying to do the things that you need to try to do to win football games, and not just going into a shell but give yourself a chance to win football games.”
Other timely big-plays also assisted in the win. A sack from a blitzing Cam Martin on third-and-two with roughly a minute left to play put the UNC offense in a very difficult fourth down situation and ultimately led to the Tar Heels’ demise.
* Still no stopping the run. Like the three teams before them, Virginia Tech was able to run the ball against UNC’s defense. While the Tar Heel D showed improvement in this area as the game progressed, Brandon Ore still averaged 4.9 yards on 19 carries as he was continuously provided holes by the Hokie O-line.
The most disheartening fact was that UNC knew Virginia Tech’s game plan was to rely on its running game, since true freshman Tyrod Taylor’s arm hasn’t yet gained the trust of Frank Beamer to take shots down field.
* The next Michael Vick? Speaking of Taylor, his ability to elude defenders while in the pocket and make plays with his feet easily draws comparisons to a Virginia Tech great.
“He’s a great athlete,” said Deunta Williams. “I think he’s going to be the next Michael Vick coming out of V-Tech. I think as the years go on, he’ll develop a better arm. He already has an amazing arm.”
While UNC missed a number of tackles in trying to bring him down, a lot of credit needs to be given to Taylor for some of the things he was able to do against UNC’s defense. It appeared as if he dipped his uniform in baby oil prior to the game. He employed slight jukes to prevent UNC defenders from gripping him, while the use of his long arms gained him countless extra yards – especially with his stiff arm.
However, it was obvious Beamer isn’t ready to allow Taylor to put the ball in the air. Taylor only threw on 35-percent of VT’s offensive plays and half of his completed passes were screens.
* Coverage sacks. T.J. Yates was sacked six times, losing a total of 27 yards. Virginia Tech was also credited with five QB hurries. While it’s easy to put the blame on the offensive line, in fact UNC's pass protection wasn't as bad as it may have seemed Saturday. Credit has to be given to the Hokies’ secondary.
“A lot of times, they did a great time covering the receivers down field,” Yates said. “They also did a great job of putting pressure [on me]. So that combination [made it] really hard to get some throws in there.”
Led by star cornerbacks Brandon Flowers and Macho Harris, VT’s secondary blanketed Yates’ options and prevented the deep pass, which UNC has relied on for much of the early parts of the season. Yates didn’t complete a pass over 20 yards.
Rarely does Yates throw the ball away while under pressure, something the young QB will continue to learn. Doing so will help UNC stay out of third-and-long situations.
* Battle of the punters. A game within the game quietly formed between Terrence Brown and Brent Bowden. Together, the punters booted six punts 50-plus yards. Brown was slightly more consistent with a 47.7-yard average and also punted a game high 63-yarder.
Brown also placed two of his six punts inside the 20-yard line, but more importantly limited big-play returner Eddie royal to just one punt return. Unlike Bowden, Brown’s punts were accomplished occurred with a lot of pressure, including two knockdowns.
“I thought our punt team and our ability to keep the ball away from some dangerous [returners]… was important part of the game plan,” Davis said. “I thought Terrence Brown… he knew he was going to get challenged. That they were going to bring the heat and he stood in there in the face of some pressure, that was very close to be honest with you, but he never flinched and he did a very good job.”
* Deunta taking charge. Deunta Williams had a career day. Everyone will remember his 39-yard interception return in which he seemingly wouldn’t go down, but Williams also posted a team-high nine tackles and seemed to be all over the field.
“I was just making my reads,” said Williams. “I put in a lot of time this week and felt like we knew what they were going to do. I felt like we were well prepared for this game and the coaches wrote up a great game plan and put us in the position so we can make plays. I just made my reads and made some plays.”
Deunta Williams is quickly becoming a leader and the heart of UNC’s defense. He has great range and closes in on plays quickly.
* Houston, do we still have a problem?. For the first time all season, UNC’s running backs collectively eclipsed the 100-yard rushing mark (138 yards on 31 carries, to be exact). That's definitely a sign progress, especially against such a stout defense. However, UNC’s running back situation still hasn’t cemented itself.
“We’re going to try to keep giving guys opportunities to grow,” said Davis, who not only agreed that a tailback has yet to secure the feature role but also mentioned that the role may never be held down by one ‘back.
On the second play from scrimmage, Ryan Houston spelled Johnny White, who officially started the game but only carried the ball twice. Houston went on to carry most of the day’s rushing load with 18 carries.
Houston is a patient ‘back, who quickly searches for the best possible hole. He busts through the lane quickly and is great at changing gears as things develop. While weaving through traffic, he uses his hands to ward off potential tacklers and to help navigate his way. Unlike lighter tailbacks, Houston will mull through trash and is able to consistently able to fall forward gaining two-three yards in the process. Also, Houston employs an underrated spin move upon contact which also leads to additional yards. He doesn’t have the breakaway speed to be a big-play threat and ultimately needs a lighting ‘back to match his thunder.
UNC headed into the fourth quarter with Anthony Elzy in the backfield and he had the most success. A fresh Elzy took advantage of his late opportunity and the fact that Virginia Tech wasn't expecting the run, and went on to run for 74 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries (6.7-yard average).
“[We put Elzy in] just to mix it up a little bit,” said Davis. “It didn’t have anything to do with Ryan fumbling the football… Anthony has a good feel for some of the stuff we were having a little bit of success with and once he got hot we stayed with him.”
Surprisingly, Elzy, who also caught a 13-yard pass for a first down on fourth-and-nine, appeared to be that needed change of pace runner and a receiver option, which Houston hasn’t proven to be.