The UNC football program looks to bounce back from its first loss of the season when welcoming in Virginia Tech to Chapel Hill.
It will be the ACC opener for the Tar Heels, who currently sit at 3-1 on the season.
As good as the offense has been this season, the defense seems to get all the coverage due to its very poor play each and every game.
So far, the UNC defense has given up over 30 points in four games and over 50 points twice. The Tar Heels look to change that narrative this weekend going up against a subpar Hokies offense.
Here are the defensive keys to the game for North Carolina against Virginia Tech.
Sep 10, 2022; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Georgia State Panthers tight end Kris Byrd (84) loses the ball out of bounds while being tackled by North Carolina Tar Heels linebacker Raneiria Dillworth (11) and defensive back Tony Grimes (1) in the first half at Center Parc Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
The UNC defense is bad. There’s no sugarcoating it. It struggles to get stops and it rarely makes it difficult on any offense.
So, creating turnovers is the only way this defense will get off the field it seems.
Up to this point in the season, the UNC defense has just two interceptions and two fumble recoveries. But, going up against a Virginia Tech team that has six turnovers this season will allow the Tar Heels some chances.
Hokies quarterback Grant Wells has five interceptions so far this season and with the experience in the secondary, you would think this could be a ‘get right’ game for that unit.
Force QB Grant Wells to win the game
Sep 22, 2022; Blacksburg, Virginia, USA; Virginia Tech Hokies quarterback Grant Wells (6) throws a touchdown pass during the second quarter against the West Virginia Mountaineers at Lane Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
As described above, quarterback Grant Wells has had his struggles this season and his inconsistent play has been a big reason for the offensive difficulties this season.
He has thrown just five touchdowns — to go with the five interceptions — and has just one game above a 60 QBR.
Wells came into this season after two successful years at Marshall throwing for nearly 6,000 yards. But, at VT, he’s had just one game so far with over 200 yards passing.
If UNC forces Wells to beat them over the top and by throwing the ball, it could be a long day for the Hokies offense.
ranks 12th in the ACC in passing yards (844) and has thrown five touchdowns and five interceptions
Can't get beat on the ground
Nov 27, 2020; Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish running back Kyren Williams (23) scores a touchdown as North Carolina Tar Heels linebacker Desmond Evans (10) and defensive back Tony Grimes (20) and defensive lineman Tomari Fox (56) defend in the first quarter at Kenan Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
While the entire defense is struggling for the Tar Heels, the rush defense hasn’t helped anything either.
So far this season, opponents have gained 866 yards on the ground, an average of 216.5 per game.
While Virginia Tech is only averaging 112 yards per game on the ground, it seems to be a career-day when facing the UNC defense.
The Hokies are led by Jalen Holston with 45 carries but he has struggled, averaging just 3.2 yards per carry. Keshawn King leads the team with 179 yards on the ground but 111 came in the season-opener.
If Virginia Tech can get some momentum on the ground, it will open up its entire offense and force the Tar Heels to go heavy on the run and potentially allow some big plays over top.
Get to the quarterback
Aug 27, 2022; Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels linebacker Power Echols (23) reacts to a defensive stop during the first half against the Florida A&M Rattlers at Kenan Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports
The UNC defense has just seven sacks this season and 6.5 of them have come from three players. With little diversity in that category, it’s going to be important for the Tar Heels to get some additional pressure from other players.
While the Hokies have struggled offensively, they have allowed just four sacks on the season — not a great stat for a UNC defense trying to exploit that.
North Carolina’s defensive issues start with the inability to get in the backfield and disrupt things. It allows the opposing quarterback to take advantage of the unsteady secondary and the rushing attack to follow a good offensive line with big holes.
So, if UNC wants to put the clamps down on a below average offense, it needs to use the skill it has in the front seven and get to the quarterback. If it can do that, it’ll go a long way in helping the Tar Heels on Saturday.