Thrilling wins propel Tar Heels into showdown with Virginia Tech
After consecutive storybook endings, North Carolina probably could use a little breather, but the Tar Heels are not going to get it.
Florida State, the 37-35 victim last week on Nick Weiler's 54-yard field goal as time ran out, was just the first of a three-game stretch that likely will determine the postseason fate for the Heels, who have won four in a row since dropping their opener to Georgia.
Next up: Virginia Tech on Saturday, the only home date for the Heels in the month of October. Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m. ET at Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill.
First-year coach Justin Fuente's Hokies have recovered from a big loss to Tennessee in Bristol and have won their last two game to improve to 3-1 on the season overall and 1-0 in ACC play. They were idle last week as the Tar Heels improved to 2-0 in league play.
"They look really good on film right now," said Carolina coach Larry Fedora, whose team scored with two seconds left to get by Pittsburgh 37-36 in its league opener a week before knocking off the Seminoles. "Maybe even more than I expected since I haven't had a chance before now to see them.
"They're playing great football, and I can see why their sitting in the position they're in right now, ranked in the Top 25."
Both the Hokies and the Tar Heels jumped into this week's poll with the Heels, who were No. 22 in the preseason but dropped out after the loss to the Bulldogs, at No. 17 and the Hokies at No. 25.
"Coach Fuente has brought a high-powered offense in that has made them extremely explosive," Fedora said, singling out quarterback Jerod Evans for his play. "Their quarterback is somebody that can beat you with his legs and his arm.
"And then you have Bud Foster there dialing it up on the defense. He will make sure they are good on defense."
Evans is the team's No. 2 rusher 209 yards to running back Travon McMillian's 212 and is passing for an average of 241 yards a game. That works out to an average of over 290 yards a game in total offense for the junior transfer from Trinity Valley (Texas) Community College.
Foster, of course, is Tech's longtime Tech defensive coordinator, a holdover from coach Frank Beamer's staff who has the Hokies at No. 9 in total defense statistically among FBS teams, limiting foes to just 264.3 yards a game rushing and passing.
The Hokies are No. 10 in pass defense in giving up just 150.8 yards a game through the air. That goes right at the strength of a North Carolina offense that has averaged 342 yards a game passing behind junior quarterback Mitch Trubisky (76.0 completion percentage and no interceptions in his last 240 pass attempts going back to 2014) and a talented and deep receiving corps.
Senior wide receiver Ryan Switzer has a team-high 47 catches for the season, but he has plenty of support from junior Austin Proehl (19 receptions, 269 yards) and seniors Bug Howard (18-261) and Mack Hollins (13-252).
Tech doesn't have that kind of depth at receiver but still has experienced a resurgence on offense since behind held to under 400 yards in total offense in the loss to Tennessee. The Hokies recorded a season high 476 yards rushing and passing against a well-regarded Boston College defense and came back with 462 in a win over East Carolina.
"Like a Krispy Kreme doughnut with the 'Hot' sign on," Hokies wide receiver Cam Phillips said when asked what it's been like to be a part of the red-hot offense.
This will be Tech's first game as a ranked team against a ranked opponent since No. 13 Michigan beat the 17th ranked Hokies in overtime in the 2012 Sugar Bowl.
Tech's last contest as a ranked team came on Sept. 13, 2014. The Hokies moved into the top 25 after a big road victory over Ohio State, then promptly lost at home to East Carolina the following week.
"My opinion on being ranked is you're not truly ranked until you defend your rank," Hokies offensive lineman Augie Conte said. "The number next to our name won't help us win."