Sam Howell, No. 10 UNC Upset by Unranked Virginia Tech in Season Opener

Blake SchusterContributor ISeptember 4, 2021

CHAPEL HILL, NORTH CAROLINA - OCTOBER 10: Sam Howell #7 of the North Carolina Tar Heels throws under pressure from Emmanuel Belmar #8 of the Virginia Tech Hokies during their game at Kenan Stadium on October 10, 2020 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. North Carolina won 56-45. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Virginia Tech delivered the first major upset of the 2021 college football season, knocking off No. 10 North Carolina 17-10 on Friday in an ACC Coastal battle at Lane Stadium. 

Tar Heels quarterback Sam Howell entered the night as a Heisman Trophy favorite and delivered a dud in his season opener. The junior completed 17 of 32 passes for 208 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions, the last of which turned the ball over to VT with 37 seconds left in regulation. 

Virginia Tech Football @HokiesFB

Start off the season with a top-10 win โ˜‘๏ธ <a href="https://t.co/jmTrnMiSWp">pic.twitter.com/jmTrnMiSWp</a>

ACC Network @accnetwork

The INT that sealed the W over No. 10 North Carolina ๐Ÿ’ฅ <a href="https://twitter.com/HokiesFB?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@HokiesFB</a> <a href="https://t.co/mCGjGl9aBK">pic.twitter.com/mCGjGl9aBK</a>

Hokies QB Braxton Burmeister went 12-of-19 for 169 yards, one touchdown and one interception in Virginia Tech's first home win against an AP Top 10 team since 2009. He added 53 yards on nine carries with another score.      

ACC Network @accnetwork

THEY'RE STORMING THE FIELD IN BLACKSBURG ๐Ÿšจ <a href="https://twitter.com/HokiesFB?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@HokiesFB</a> <a href="https://t.co/a5oQp9Wdkl">pic.twitter.com/a5oQp9Wdkl</a>

While UNC did outgain VT in total yards, 354-307, the Tar Heels couldn't find a way to consistently get the ball in the red zone. Howell was also sacked six times for a loss of 35 yards. 

Meanwhile, Virginia Tech committed to running the ball and keeping the clock moving. The Hokies rushed 43 times for 138 yards, while UNC rushed just 30 times. 

With all of the hype and promise surrounding Howell, it's not surprising he had the ball in his hands, but he didn't make the best decisions when he dropped back to pass. 

ACC Network @accnetwork

JERMAINE WALLER TOOK THAT ๐Ÿ˜ค <a href="https://twitter.com/HokiesFB?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@HokiesFB</a> <a href="https://t.co/CsHjtRD329">pic.twitter.com/CsHjtRD329</a>

Virginia Tech Football @HokiesFB

MARIO ๐Ÿ—ฃ<br><br>What a sack on third down<br><br>๐Ÿ“บ <a href="https://twitter.com/espn?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@espn</a> ยป <a href="https://t.co/Dje73cU1PX">https://t.co/Dje73cU1PX</a> <br><br>2Q - 11:14 (๐Ÿฆƒ 7, ๐Ÿ 0) <a href="https://t.co/p5wdg0pSk2">pic.twitter.com/p5wdg0pSk2</a>

Even before kickoff, it was clear the Tar Heels wouldn't have an easy time playing in Blacksburg, with a full-capacity stadium once again rocking to Metallica's "Enter Sandman":

ACC Network @accnetwork

VIRGINIA TECH.<br>ENTER SANDMAN.<br><br>ABSOLUTE CHILLS. <a href="https://twitter.com/HokiesFB?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@HokiesFB</a> <a href="https://t.co/jRnd97Xs1R">pic.twitter.com/jRnd97Xs1R</a>

That energy seemed to translate to the field, as VT scored five minutes into the first quarter to take a lead it wouldn't relinquish. 

Many predicted UNC would claim the ACC Coastal Division in 2021, but the Tar Heels are now 0-1. They have a chance to get in the win column with upcoming games against Georgia State, Virginia and Georgia Tech, but there's no question this defeat was a disappointing setback for head coach Mack Brown's program.