UNC preparing to face unfamiliar, familar foe in Virginia Tech

Fueled by JUCO transfer quarterback Jerod Evans, who leads the ACC in passing efficiency, the new-look Hokies are averaging 40.8 points through their first four games under coach Justin Fuente

Peter Casey—Reuters
Sep 24

CHAPEL HILL — For the fourth time in six games this year, the North Carolina football team will face an opponent led by a first-year coach when it takes on Virginia Tech at Kenan Stadium in a key ACC Coastal Division showdown. It’s a schedule quirk that has forced the Tar Heels’ Larry Fedora and his staff to watch a lot of games involving squads their team won’t even play. That continues to be the case, even though by now, there’s plenty of tape available to scout the Justin Fuente version of the Hokies. “I’d be lying to you if I told you we’re not watching Memphis and we’re not watching last year’s game, because we are,” Fedora said, referring to the team Fuente coached in 2015 before being hired to replace retiring Tech legend Frank Beamer. “We’re worried about leaving a stone unturned, so we probably overdo it. But yeah, we’ve got enough tape this year and we’re focusing in on that.” Those current tapes show a Hokies team significantly more potent offensively than those the Tar Heels have faced in recent years. Fueled by junior college transfer quarterback Jerod Evans, who leads the ACC in passing efficiency and ranks second on the team in rushing, Tech is averaging 40.8 points through its first four games under Fuente with an uptempo attack reminiscent of the one used by UNC. “Justin has done a great job with them,” Fedora said. “He’s brought in a more wide open offense with a quarterback that can beat you with his legs or with his arm. I’m going to compare it to some of the things we do on offense. They’ve got a really good football team.” In contrast to the Hokies’ new offensive scheme, their defense should be plenty familiar to the Tar Heels. That’s not necessarily an advantage, though. Tech has been just as stingy as ever on its opponents, ranking third in the ACC in total defense while allowing only 18.8 points per game, thanks to the return of long-time coordinator Bud Foster. One of three holdovers from Beamer’s former staff, Foster is widely acknowledged as one of the best and most creative defensive minds in college football. His ability to disguise blitzes and coverages, along with his penchant for making adjustments on the fly will present the biggest challenge to date to UNC’s own star quarterback Mitch Trubisky. “He’s a great coach because he always has his guys ready,” Trubisky said of Foster. “They play a little bit different coverage defense than some of the other teams around the country and what they do, they do it really well.” Trubisky has yet to throw an interception in 175 attempts this season while throwing for 1,711 yards and 13 touchdowns. His 76.0 completion percentage is by far the best in the ACC and his efficiency rating of 182.6 is second only to his Hokies’ counterpart Evans. He said the key to continuing that success is avoiding mistakes that leave points on the field — something the Tar Heels have done several times during the past two weeks despite close victories against Florida State and Pittsburgh — and spending extra time in the film room. Concentrating on Virginia Tech, not a lot of games involving teams UNC won’t even play. “It’s definitely a challenge,” Trubisky said. “I’m just going to have to have a better week of film preparation, looking at what they did in the past and what they’ve done this season trying to find tendencies and anything we can to try to exploit their defense. “They do a lot of tricky things over there, but they always seem to be in the right spot to make plays. We just have to ID the defense in coverage, but continue to do the basics on offense, do what we do well and try to keep them off balance.”