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October 5, 2012

Know Your Enemy: North Carolina

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Each game, we'll get the inside look at Virginia Tech's opponent by talking with the opposing team's beat writer. This week, we spoke with TarHeelIllustrated.com publisher Adam Powell to get the inside look at North Carolina>.

1) What's the key to the Tar Heels' fast-tempo offense and what are the benefits?

Powell: It allows them to create tempo that's confusing for the defense. It's hard enough to get up there and scheme and try to figure out what a team is doing against you, but it's another thing when they're running out plays every 15 seconds.

Really, what's stuck out to me is it looks like they're in that two-minute, end of the game, losing by four points kind of offense all the time. Coach (Larry Fedora talked this week about, he wants four running backs.

They have three guys right now, any of which can be a featured tailback. Redshirt freshman Romar Morris, sophomore Giovani Bernard and junior A.J. Blue. Bernard gets a lot of attention and well deserved. He's one of the most gifted running backs I've seen since I've covered Carolina.

Since Willie Parker left, Bernard is maybe as good an offensive player they've had. But Bernard missed the Wake Forest and Louisville games with some knee tenderness and he's had ACL issues in the past. But they really didn't seem to miss a beat. Morris was great in the second half against Louisville. UNC tries to run 80 plays a game, so you need more than one back. For Carolina, it starts with the running game and also having a veteran offensive line that's only allowed one or two sacks.

2) Has Bryn Renner played like expected or has he fallen above or below that?

Powell: He kinda get hurt in the Wake Forest game. There was a little bit of confusion on what exactly happened to him. He said after the game that he'd more or less hurt his ribs and had the wind knocked out of him. But on Monday, they said he had a couple of concussion tests. It looked like a couple of times, his head hit the field turf and he'd been knocked out. He came back in that game and really struggled in the second half.

The first half at Louisville was a nightmare. Outside of that, he's really been solid. He's found his targets and done it with his arm and legs. I don't know if we've seen Renner at his best this year, but he was limited at Wake Forest or they didn't need him last week. He needs a big ACC win to hang his hat on.

3) UNC has had two shutouts but given the competition, is the defense really that good?

Powell: Certainly, you have to talk about the level of competition. Let's face it, Elon and Idaho aren't very good. UNC really struggled in the second half of the Wake Forest game getting pressure on the quarterback. There were a lot of missed assignments and guys weren't filling those gaps where guys were blitzing.

The biggest thing was just missed assignments. Guys were not where they were supposed to be and there's been some changes since the Louisville game. Tommy Heffernan has really emerged, was a walk-on last season and is starting now. He's playing better, led the team in tackles against Louisville and has been playing pretty well.

They've made a few changes, clearly grown as a defense and prided themselves the last few games on getting after the quarterback. That's gonna be a big focus again this week. But Logan Thomas will bring some challenges. Logan's bigger than them, so it'll be interesting to see that dynamic as Logan is stiff arming and trying to get guys off of him. Defensively, the key is gonna be finishing the job.

4) How much can you gauge from the three wins, against inferior teams?

Powell: It's a little bit misleading and a little bit of fool's gold because of the last couple of games and who they played. They really overmatched both East Carolina and Idaho. The score might not have reflected it in the ECU game, but they were in complete control of that game.

Last week with Idaho, that was not a good football team. I think Virginia Tech would have shut them out as easily as Carolina did. Carolina was gonna beat that team whether they shut them out or not. The two legitimate teams that Carolina played, they lost to and gave up a lot of yards and a lot of points to both of those teams. I'm sure Virginia Tech will see some things they can exploit.

5) Does UNC feel like it has Virginia Tech where it wants them, with the Hokies' struggles?

Powell: I don't care if Virginia Tech is 3-2, coming off a loss, they are the team to beat in the ACC coastal until somebody knocks them off that throne. They're gonna come to Chapel Hill fired up, spitting nails. If anybody knows anything about Bud Foster, he's gonna have those guys ready to play Saturday. Renner is gonna have his work cut out for him. But if he goes out and wins that game, there will be a lot more attention brought to him that he might not have deserved before.

I just have this sneaking suspicion that Virginia Tech is not gonna lose this game. Carolina is gonna have to go out and take it from them. They'll have to physically beat them. I just can't imagine two weeks in a row the Hokies are gonna beat themselves kinda the way you can argue they did against Cincinnati.

Prediction: This isn't the first time where Virginia Tech has come to Chapel Hill a game or two off a tough loss. From my experience over the last eight years, Virginia Tech always seems ready to play when they come to Chapel Hill.
I know UNC is favored, but I just have a hard time going against Virginia Tech. Seeing Foster's commentary earlier this week, that guy is one of the great coaches in this sport. This ia s proud program and they expect to win games like this. I think it comes down to turnovers, field position. I'm gonna give the nod to Virginia Tech, 27-24.


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