Heel Tough Blog: Virginia Tech Preview

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After their second bye week of the 2018 season, the Heels will be back in action on Saturday when they welcome in the Virginia Tech Hokies for a night game in Kenan Stadium. The Heels will be looking to avenge last season’s blowout in Blacksburg, while also potentially spinning this season back in the right direction. Can this be the game where the Heels turn things around?

Team Breakdowns

Tar Heels

The Heels offense entered last Thursday’s game with some hope after taking a step in the right direction against Pittsburgh. The response, though, was a tough performance to swallow from a combination of Nathan Elliott (75–129, 773 yds, 3 TD, 4 INT, 21 rush, 26 yds) and Chazz Surratt (4–10, 10 yds, 0 TD, 3 INT). With Surratt now done for the season with a wrist injury, Cade Fortin took reps throughout the bye to prepare him to possibly play as the Heels continue their search for answers under center. The Heels backfield continues to have a strong season, headlined by Antonio Williams (43 rush, 281 yds, 3 TD, 5 rec, 21 yds) and Michael Carter (13 rush, 103 yds, 7 rec, 41 yds, TD) who are averaging a combined 6.9 yards per carry thus far. Jordon Brown (34 rush, 137 yds, 2 TD, 9 rec, 52 yds) continues to be a versatile threat out of the backfield, as well. The receiving corps has struggled to make an impact with all of the issues at quarterback. The Heels currently have only two receivers with double digit catches and those two players, Anthony Ratliff-Williams (13 rec, 263 yds, TD) and Dazz Newsome (13 rec, 128 yds), are the only players also over 100 yards receiving this season. So far this season, the Heels have targeted their tight ends just 12 times, which is frustrating considering there are three capable targets in that group. The Heels offensive line has been solid to this point, anchored by its two offensive tackles, Charlie Heck and William Sweet. The Heels have had success running the football, primarily to the right side behind Heck and true freshman William Barnes. The pass protection has been solid, but was exposed a bit against Miami.

The Heels defense has struggled mightily to stop the run once again this season. Those struggles start up front, where the combination of Jalen Dalton (12 ttkl, 1.5 TFL, 1.5 scks), Jeremiah Clarke (14 ttkl, 1.0 TFL, 0.0 scks) and Jason Strowbridge (8 ttkl, 1.0 TFL, 0.0 scks) have struggled to get push. Aaron Crawford’s (29 ttkl, 5.0 TFL, 3.0 scks) return should bolster that unit, but overall the interior of that defensive line simply has to be better. The back seven have had their issues in run defense since the opener, as there is a continued issue with missed gap assignments it would appear. Cole Holcomb (27 ttkl, 4.5 TFL, 1.0 sck) and Dominique Ross (20 ttkl, 1.5 TFL, 0.0 scks, 4 PD) have been solid and will hope to step their game up as the season goes along. In the secondary, J.K. Britt (18 ttkl, 0.5 TFL, PD) has had his issues filling gaps in run defense situations. In pass defense, the Heels have been better, with the true freshmen leading the way. Nickel corner Trey Morrison (12 ttkl, 2.0 TFL, 1.0 sck, PD) already looks like someone who could play at the next level, while Bryson Richardson (1 ttkl, INT, PD) has had some moments where he has flashed, as well. Meanwhile, steady veteran K.J. Sails (8 ttkl, 2 PD) has had a steady junior season following last year’s breakout performance. Sophomore Myles Wolfolk (24 ttkl, 1.0 TFL) has filled in nicely for the injured Myles Dorn (5 ttkl in 1 GP) at free safety. The improved pass rush has helped the pass defense, as well, but the two most consistent pass rushers, Malik Carney (13 ttkl, 5.0 TFL, 3.0 scks in two games) and Tomon Fox (14 ttkl, 4.0 TFL, 1.0 sck in three games), have been on and off the field because of their staggered four games suspensions.

Overall, the Heels special teams group has been solid, but Anthony Ratliff-Williams (8 KR, 20.6 avg) has not been as effective as he was a year ago.

Virginia Tech

Like the Heels, the Hokies had a moment of uncertainty at quarterback this season, but they have gotten theirs quickly resolved. Sophomore Josh Jackson (36–58, 575 yds, 5 TD, INT, 20 rush, 61 yds, TD) started the season under center, but a leg injury has since forced him to the bench. Ryan Willis (61–104, 836 yds, 6 TD, INT, 25 rush, 58 yds, TD) has come in and been fantastic, though, in the two games he has started and has eased concern about the passing offense. It also doesn’t hurt to have Damon Hazelton Jr. (27 rec, 479 yds, 5 TD) and Eric Kumah (16 rec, 259 yds, 2 TD) as your top targets and both of those players have thrived with Willis taking snaps. The Hokies offensive line hasn’t been as strong as it has in the past. That has helped lead to more struggles in the running game, an issue that has been present since the tail end of the Frank Beamer era.

Bud Foster’s lunch pail defense has had its ups and downs thus far this season due to the youth that holds down many of the starting spots. Talented defensive end Trevon Hill (11 ttkl, 4.5 TFL, 3.5 scks, PD) was kicked out of the program following the loss to Old Dominion, but Houshun Gaines (15 ttkl, 4.0 TFL, 3.5 scks) has stepped up at the defensive end spot, while Ricky Walker (12 ttkl, 3.0 TFL, 0.5 sck) continues to anchor the interior of the line. The linebacking corps is led by middle linebacker Rayshard Ashby (40 ttkl, 5.5 TFL, 0.0 scks, FF, 2 PD) and true freshman Dax Hollifield’s (12 ttkl, 2.0 TFL, 0.0 scks) early emergence has make Bud Foster happy. The secondary, which has been the strength of the Hokies for a while, and even though Reggie Floyd (26 ttkl, 6.5 TFL, 2 INT, PD) and Caleb Farley (12 ttkl, 1.0 TFL, 1.0 sck, 2 INT, 2 PD) have played well, the pass defense is allowing nearly 300 yards per game.

The special teams unit is a good one as always, although there is some uncertainty at the returner spots.

Team Stats

Tar Heels

Off. PPG: 21.0 (120th)

Off. PYPG: 199.5 (98th)

Off. RYPG: 178.3 (64th)

Off. TYPG: 377.8 (90th)

Off. 3rd Down %: 29.5 (128th)

Def. PPG: 36.8 (111th)

Def. PYPG: 177.0 (21st)

Def. RYPG: 209.3 (113th)

Def. TYPG: 386.3 (71st)

Def 3rd Down %: 44.9

Sacks: 11.0 (T-68th)

Interceptions: 1 (T-124th)

Turnover Margin: -8

Virginia Tech

Off. PPG: 35.0 (39th)

Off. PYPG: 282.2 (28th)

Off. RYPG: 189.6 (54th)

Off. TYPG: 471.8 (30th)

Off. 3rd Down %: 42.1 (47th)

Def. PPG: 25.6 (63rd)

Def. PYPG: 297.4 (120th)

Def. RYPG: 100.6 (8th)

Def. TYPG: 398.0 (81st)

Def. 3rd Down %: 36.6

Sacks: 14.0 (T-42nd)

Interceptions: 5 (T-45th)

Turnover Margin: +5

Keys to the Game

Run the Ball!!!

The Heels strongest unit offensively continues to be the running back unit. There is no doubting that. Both Antonio Williams and Michael Carter are averaging over 6.0 yards per carry and that is without including the most experience player of the group in Jordon Brown who led the team in rushing a year. Right now, this is the strength of the offense so it is time to lean on that strength.

Limit the Turnovers

The Heels have had some issues turning the football over the past couple of seasons and that issue surfaced again last Thursday night. The Heels turned the ball over six times that night and has to be considered the main reason they lost by 37. The Heels have to take better care of the football to help out an offense that already struggling.

Get That Initial Push Up Front

The run defense has continued their struggles once again this season and that starts up front. The defensive tackles need to get into the backfield and force these backs to the edge instead of allowing them to wreak havoc through the middle of this defense. Controlling the line of scrimmage will also lead to negative plays that help put opposing offense in 2nd & long and 3 & long situations.

Injury Report

Tar Heels

OUT- Malik Carney (suspension), Brandon Fritts (knee), Chazz Surratt (wrist)

QUEST- Myles Dorn (leg)

PROB- Michael Carter (ankle), Aaron Crawford (knee)

Virginia Tech

OUT- Josh Jackson (leg), Devante Smith (undisclosed), Alan Tisdale (achilles), Jeremy Webb (achilles)

QUEST- Divine Deablo (undisclosed)

Projected Starting Lineups

Tar Heels

Offense

QB

#11 Nathan Elliott, Jr.

RB

#24 Antonio Williams, Jr.

WR

#17 Anthony Ratliff-Williams, Jr.

WR

#19 Dazz Newsome, So.

WR

#21 Dyami Brown, Fr. OR

#88 Beau Corrales, So.

TE

#80 Jake Bargas, Jr. OR

#86 Carl Tucker

LT

#51 William Sweet, So.

LG

#58 Nick Polino, Jr.

C

#55 Jay-Jay McCargo, So.

RG

#56 Billy Ross, RFr. OR

#76 William Barnes, Fr.

RT

#67 Charlie Heck, Jr.

Defense

DE

#12 Tomon Fox, Jr.

NT

#49 Jeremiah Clarke, Sr. OR

#92 Aaron Crawford, Jr.

DT

#55 Jason Strowbridge, Jr. OR

#97 Jalen Dalton, Sr.

DE

#33 Allen Cater, Jr.

WLB

#36 Cole Holcomb, Sr.

MLB

# 7 Jonathan Smith, Jr.

SLB

# 3 Dominique Ross, Jr.

CB

# 9 K.J. Sails, Jr.

FS

#11 Myles Wolfolk, So.

SS

#29 J.K. Britt, Sr.

CB

#28 C.J. Cotman, So.

Special Teams

K

#98 Freeman Jones, Sr.

KOS

#98 Freeman Jones, Sr.

P

#91 Hunter Lent, Sr.

LS

#41 Kyle Murphy, Sr.- K

#61 Tommy Bancroft, Sr.-P

H

#16 Manny Miles, Sr.

KR

#17 Anthony Ratliff-Williams, Jr.

PR

#19 Dazz Newsome, So.

Virginia Tech

Offense

QB

# 5 Ryan Willis, Jr.

RB

#33 Deshawn McClease, Jr. OR

#32 Steven Peoples, Sr.

WR

# 6 Hezekiah Grimsley, So.

WR

#14 Damon Hazelton, So.

WR

#83 Eric Kumah, Jr.

TE

#29 Dalton Keene, So.

LT

#60 Silas Dzansi, RFr.

LG

#61 Kyle Chung, Sr.

C

#75 Zachariah Hoyt, So.

RG

#74 Braxton Pfaff, Sr.

RT

#69 Yosuah Nijman, Sr.

Defense

DE

#40 Emmanual Belmar, So.

DT

# 8 Ricky Walker, Sr.

NT

#55 Jarrod Hewitt, So.

DE

#11 Houshun Gaines, Jr.

WHIP

# 9 Khalil Ladler, So.

MLB

#23 Rayshard Ashby, So.

SLB

#44 Dylan Rivers, So. OR

# 4 Dax Hollifield, Fr.

CB

# 3 Caleb Farley, RFr.

FS

#17 Divine Deablo, So.

ROVER

#21 Reggie Floyd, Jr.

CB

# 5 Bryce Watts, So.

Special Teams

K

#93 Brian Johnson, So.

KOS

#92 Jordan Stout, RFr.

P

#91 Oscar Bradburn, So.

LS

#97 Oscar Shadley, Fr.

H

#91 Oscar Bradburn, So.

KR

# 3 Caleb Farley, RFr.

PR

#86 C.J. Carroll, Sr. OR

#14 Damon Hazelton, So.