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Virginia Tech vs. North Carolina: Complete Game Preview

Bryan ManningFeatured Columnist IIIJune 26, 2016

Virginia Tech vs. North Carolina: Complete Game Preview

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    The Virginia Tech Hokies couldn’t be any happier now that the calendar has flipped to October. September was not too kind to the Hokies as they finished the month with a 3-2 record that included losses to two Big East teams.

    The Hokies will face Coastal Division-rival North Carolina this Saturday in Chapel Hill.

    The Hokies, fresh off a disappointing, last-second loss to Cincinnati, face a North Carolina team with a lot of offensive talent. First-year head coach Larry Fedora employs a prolific spread offense led by talented junior quarterback Bryn Renner.

    Virginia Tech’s defense is coming off a disappointing performance to Cincinnati where Bearcats quarterback Munchie Legaux threw for 376 yards and three touchdowns. Legaux’s previous high was 217 yards.

    Can the Hokies bounce back from last week’s disappointment on the road at North Carolina? 

    Here is a preview of this week's game.

Hokies Running Game

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    The running game has been a work-in-progress throughout the season but continues to progress each week. While the Hokies are ranked 77th nationally in rushing offense, their numbers continue to climb.

    Tony Gregory seemed to emerge two weeks ago against Bowling Green but missed last week’s game vs. Cincinnati. Freshmen Michael Holmes and J.C. Coleman continue to alternate, and both are making big plays. Holmes carried the Hokies on one scoring drive last week.

    Offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring needs to call more screen passes to the running backs. Coleman has excelled in the passing game thus far, and it could help Thomas alleviate some of his and the team’s first quarter struggles.

    The screen-passing game is an excellent substitute for the running game. 

Containing Giovani Bernard

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    The Tar Heels’ outstanding sophomore running back missed two games earlier in the season with a knee injury. He returned two weeks ago with a workmanlike 50 yards on 18 carries against East Carolina. He was his usual explosive self last week against Idaho gaining 70 yards on just two carries.

    Fedora will also use junior running back A.J. Blue and freshman Romar Morris. Blue is a banger while Morris runs a lot like Bernard. Morris could be the fastest player on North Carolina’s roster.

    Bernard is UNC’s best running back, though, and he is healthy. Last year as a freshman, Bernard rushed for 1,253 yards and 13 touchdowns. Against the Hokies Bernard rushed for only 45 yards last year. 

North Carolina’s Defense Has Been Tough to Score on

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    Entering Saturday’s game, the North Carolina defense hasn’t given up a touchdown in 10 quarters. Granted their opposition has been East Carolina and Idaho (100th and 110th respectively in total offense) the past two weeks, which represent eight of those scoreless quarters.

    Fedora has brought an attacking-style defense to Chapel Hill that is sometimes overshadowed by his fast-paced offense. The Tar Heels have 14 sacks this season, and with Virginia Tech’s deficiencies on the offensive line, this is a matchup to keep an eye on.

    The Tar Heels are ranked 32nd nationally in total defense while the Hokies are 85th in scoring offense.

    The Hokies need to feature a game plan that is heavy on getting wide receiver Marcus Davis involved early. 

Can Antone Exum Bounce Back?

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    Exum had by far his worst game as a Hokie last week against Cincinnati. Not only was he flagged for four penalties, but he was also targeted every time the Bearcats needed a big play.

    Virginia Tech has virtually no experienced cornerback. Their top two reserves are true freshmen and have struggled in their limited playing time.

    So, it is imperative that Exum have a short memory this week. It is too late into the season for the Hokies to consider moving Exum back to safety.

    Exum is a talented guy, but when you put something on film like Cincinnati did last week, future opponents will look to exploit it until Exum can prove his performance was an aberration. 

Prediction

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    These teams seem to be going in totally different directions at the moment. The Hokies and Tar Heels have played close games in recent years with UNC actually winning in Blacksburg back in 2009.

    However, since the Hokies entered the ACC in 2004 they are 7-1 against the Tar Heels.

    But this is a different North Carolina team. They are playing with an inspired confidence and are free from all the scandal that has plagued the program in recent years.

    Logan Thomas has shown a lack of consistency through the first five weeks, and there is nothing to indicate that will change this week. If Thomas plays a good game from start to finish, the Hokies will win.

    The Tar Heels are the hot team, and playing at home gives them an advantage. This game will come down to the wire, but the Hokies’ struggles on offense will prevent them from winning an important road game in the ACC.

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