Tar Heel Illustrated looks ahead into October with the Tar Heel Countdown, as we break down what might be the most important four game stretch for the Tar Heels, starting with a home date in Kenan Stadium against Frank Beamer's Virginia Tech Hokies.
Virginia Tech is coming off an 8-5 season and 5-3 conference record, with one of those wins coming against the Tar Heels in Blacksburg---a 27-17 triumph last October in Lane Stadium.
The Hokies dominated most of that game with their swarming defense, as the Tar Heels were held to 10 points for most of the afternoon before scoring late on a scoring drive orchestrated by Marquise Williams, making his first career start.
The Hokies were able to cause three turnovers in the game against the Heels, and quarterback Logan Thomas had one of his better performances, throwing for 293 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions.
This autumn the Tar Heels will host the Hokies right in the middle of a critical four-game stretch for the Tar Heels that will almost certainly determine UNC's fate in the Coastal Division. The Hokies lost several key pieces from their team last year, but they are expected to compete for the Coastal title yet again, as they have for much of the past decade under Beamer.
While the Hokies have generally been better than UNC since they joined the ACC, beating Carolina eight times in the past ten seasons, the Tar Heels did upset them on their home field on a Thursday Night ESPN contest back in 2009, and then blew them out in Kenan Stadium in Larry Fedora's first season as head coach back in 2012.
Come inside and take a closer look at Virginia Tech, as the Tar Heels and Hokies due battle October 4 in Chapel Hill.
The offense is going to be the question mark for this Virginia Tech team, as they lost their leader at quarterback in Logan Thomas. Now, there seems to be a quarterback battle in Blacksburg, with several experts expecting Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer to win the starting job. It will be interesting to see what Brewer can provide coming from the air attack at Texas Tech to the Hokies, but he might have the most experience right now for Virginia Tech.
Whoever is at quarterback for the Hokies, they will have an experienced group of wide receivers to throw to, as the Hokies will have Joshua Stanford, Demitri Knowles, and Willie Byrn, who each had over 40 receptions for the Hokies last year and over 600 yards.
The Hokies will also be hoping to have a running back group that can stay healthy, as they were plagued with injuries a season ago.
Unfortunately for them, Trey Edmunds broke his leg in the season finale and has missed time over the off season, and junior J.C. Coleman started in the spring game. They hope to have those two on the field this summer in training camp, as Edmunds has been cleared to resume playing.
They also have a dynamic freshman running back in Marshawn Williams that they are excited about and who has impressed the coaches early on. Look for him to be in the rotation early for the Hokies.
On the offensive line, the Hokies will be returning starters Jonathan McLaughlin and Caleb Farris, but they still will be young up front, possibly starting two sophomores and a freshman in an area where Virginia Tech has struggled at times in the past.
When talking about defense for the Hokies, there isn't much that has changed, as they are expected to be one of the leaders again in the ACC on that side of the ball this year. They did lose some key pieces on the defensive side of the ball, but when talking about "Beamer Ball" and having Bud Foster on the sideline, the Hokies will be near the top.
Last year, the VT defense was ranked in all categories, in the Top 15, as the Hokies forced their opponents into third down an long several times (averaged 8.3 yards per third down), had a plus seven turnover margin, and limited their opponents to only 27 total passing plays of 20 or more yards.
On the defensive line, the Hokies seem to plug in players that seem to flourish in their system and every year, they have a new name emerge on the line that is one of the top players in the ACC. This year, they will have senior Luther Maddy leading the way, who returned for his final year. But they will also have names like Dadi Nicolas, Corey Marshall, and Ken Ekanem on the line and they will be looking for them to emerge as a playmaker for them this upcoming season.
At linebacker they will have no returning starters from last year, but a group of seasoned backups eager to prove themselves in the starting rotation. Even though they will be starting possibly two juniors and a senior, the Hokies and opponents will be looking to test the linebacker positions. But they are excited to see what Chase Williams, Deon Clarke, and Ronny Vandyke can do on the field with their athleticism.
The strongest part of the defensive unit is the secondary. There is no question about that. The Hokies will be returning all their starters from last year's team, including two sophomore stars in pKendall Fuller and Brandon Facyson, who combined for 11 interceptions last season. They will also have Kyshoen Jarrett and Detrick Bonner in the secondary also, both who are seniors and have plenty experience.
As always the Hokies will bring a fierce challenge when they take the field against the Tar Heels, but UNC had this team's number and then some when they last met on the turf at Kenan Stadium. UNC will look to take advantage of the home atmosphere and what they hope will be a fast early start this fall and pick up this huge game, which always plays a direct role in determining who represents the Coastal Division in the ACC Championship Game.