UNC football: Heels' defense revived in victory over Virginia Tech
North Carolina’s defense desperately needed something, anything to go right.
Enter Virginia Tech.
The Tar Heels earned a stellar 41-10 win Saturday afternoon against the Hokies in Chapel Hill, and it was Carolina’s defense that stood out for a change. Virginia Tech’s lowly offense mustered just 273 yards against a defense that entered the game allowing 495 yards per game.
Yes, a lot of Saturday’s result was thanks to Virginia Tech’s incompetence on the offensive side of the ball. The Hokies came in with the 2nd-worst offense in the ACC, ahead of only Georgia Tech, and again showed they don’t have the pieces to move the ball efficiently.
But still, the Tar Heels defense did a ton of good, and that’s something Carolina needed. UNC allowed just 3.9 yards per play and did a good job of limiting the Hokies on the ground and through the air.
Virginia Tech quarterback Grant Wells finished 16-for-26 passing with just 139 yards, no touchdowns and an interception. For Carolina, which allowed an average of nearly 280 yards through the air through its first 4 games, shutting down a passing attack has to feel good.
The Hokies didn’t have a receiver with 50 yards, as Carolina’s defensive backs did a great job of limiting any separation.
On the ground, the Hokies didn’t fare much better. Virginia Tech rushed for just 99 yards and 2.8 yards per carry as the Heels’ defensive front controlled the line of scrimmage. The linebacking duo of Cedric Gray and Power Echols had a really strong game together, with Gray finishing with 8 tackles and an interception and Echols adding 7 tackles.
In a battle of maybe the ACC’s worst offense vs. maybe its worst defense – at least coming in – it was the Tar Heels’ battered defensive unit that won a contest between units that really, really needed a win. And for the Heels, it showed that maybe there is still damage to be done in a Coastal Division that hasn’t had a team emerge as a frontrunner.
Of course, it wasn’t all about the defense for Carolina, either. Its ’ high-powered offense struggled some against Notre Dame, but it was back in full force against a Hokies defense that has been pretty good so far.
Drake Maye again did what Drake Maye does, throwing for 363 yards and 3 touchdowns while rushing for 73 more yards and 2 touchdowns. He eclipsed his dad on Carolina’s passing touchdowns list, with 26 fewer games played.
As a team, the Heels averaged 7.2 yards per play. Three receivers went for more than 50 yards, and Josh Downs had another exceptional day with 120 yards.
Against a Virginia Tech team that certainly isn’t built to win this year, the Tar Heels showed they’re far better than the bottom of the ACC crop. Can Carolina win the Coastal? Who knows. The defense, despite a great day against a bad offense, still offers plenty of concern.
But in their first game against an ACC opponent this year, the Tar Heels showed they’re at least in the mix in a wide-open division. If Carolina’s defense can gather some confidence from Saturday and carry that forward against better teams, maybe, just maybe, the Heels can do enough on that side of the ball to let the offense win games.