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

Blake SchusterContributor ISeptember 4, 2021

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. 

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Start off the season with a top-10 win ☑️ <a href="https://t.co/jmTrnMiSWp">pic.twitter.com/jmTrnMiSWp</a>

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The INT that sealed the W over No. 10 North Carolina 💥 <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.      

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THEY'RE STORMING THE FIELD IN BLACKSBURG 🚨 <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. 

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

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MARIO 🗣<br><br>What a sack on third down<br><br>📺 <a href="https://twitter.com/espn?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@espn</a> » <a href="https://t.co/Dje73cU1PX">https://t.co/Dje73cU1PX</a> <br><br>2Q - 11:14 (🦃 7, 🐏 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":

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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.  



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