As we arrive at two days till the start of the Hokies’ 2014 season, we continue our countdown of the Hokies’ toughest opponents 2014 with our number 2 team, the #23 North Carolina Tar Heels.
This was a close decision to put the Tar Heels ahead of Duke but while the Tar Heels aren’t as good as the Blue Devils on offense, North Carolina projects to be a lot more dangerous on offense while also having an elite playmaker on special teams.
Marquise Williams was not intended to be the replacement for Bryn Renner long term but Williams was quite impressive when he became the starter after Renner’s injury. Williams helped lead the Tar Heels to a bowl game after a 1-5 start and Williams is definitely the second best quarterback in the ACC entering the 2014 season.
Williams is a big time dual-threat quarterback that threw for 1,698 passing yards, 15 touchdowns, and 6 interceptions last season along with having 111 carries for 536 rushing yards and 6 touchdowns. Williams was being incorporated as a dual-threat playmaker on some plays early in the season and Williams proved to be a quality starter when he got the job full time.
Even when Williams had some struggles passing the ball like he did against Duke last season when he threw 2 interceptions and was 17 for 36 passing, Williams still kept UNC in the game with his legs as proven by the 16 carries for 104 yards and touchdowns that Williams had in that game. Williams is a very good dual threat and will be able to do some damage against the Hokies but not as much as he’ll do in some games.
Quinshad Davis is UNC’s top receiver and he has great size at 6-4 which makes him a big red zone target which UNC took advantage of last season as proven by his 10 touchdown catches. Brandon Facyson might be a better matchup than Fuller for Davis as Facyson has a little more height at 6-2 than Kendall Fuller at 6-0 though both could and will be able to do a solid job on Davis.
Ryan Switzer is a solid wide receiver that can make some plays in the slot though the Hokies can use Donovan Riley out of the slot to slow down Switzer. However, Switzer is a very dangerous return man that returned five punts for touchdowns last season, earning him a spot on multiple All-American First Teams last season.
Switzer also averaged 20.9 yards per punt return and Preseason All-ACC punter A.J. Hughes will look to get a lot of hang time on punts to help his punt coverage teammates cover this Preseason All-ACC return man. Switzer is a potential game changer that could drastically effect the outcome of game on one play and we’ll see if the Beamer Ball of old is there to shut down Switzer.
On defense, North Carolina isn’t that good but they aren’t that bad either which helped put them just ahead of the Blue Devils who are better defensively but rate a lot weaker offensively.
The Tar Heels do have some quality defensive players led by linebacker Norkeithus Otis who had a very strong season in 2013. Otis did not get a lot of tackles (50) in his first season of getting a lot of playing time but had some impressive numbers with 14 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks, and 3 forced fumbles. Otis knows how to get to the backfield but seems primarily to be a blitzing OLB that doesn’t have much coverage ability.
Tim Scott had previously been a starter at cornerback but Scott is moving to safety which might be an upgrade as Scott has proven to be a solid run defender with 9.5 tackles for loss which is above-average for a defensive back. Scott will be leading a secondary that only has one returning starter and may need to have a big season of around 4 to 6 interceptions for North Carolina to do well.
The battle in the trenches has the potential to be one that the Hokies can dominate as North Carolina lost a lot of their top linemen. Trey Edmunds and the Virginia Tech running back could do a lot of damage which could set up some one-on-one matchups for Joshua Stanford, Willie Byrn and Demitri Knowles on the outside that can be exposed via play action passes. However, UNC has enough talent on defense to keep the Hokies somewhat contained.
Marquise Williams might not be a superstar quarterback but Williams is a very good dual-threat quarterback that can do a lot of damage. UNC’s traditional running game could be solid but Williams could do a lot of damage on read options. Meanwhile, the Hokies do have the secondary talent to slow down Williams in the passing game but can the Hokies prevent Williams from doing damage with his legs.
This has all the makings of a very close game and this could end up being the game that turns out to be the ACC Coastal’s championship game when we look back on this season. This game is a big time toss up as the Hokies are a lot stronger on defense while UNC is stronger on offense. This could very come down to someone having a big game and that could be Dadi Nicolas who has the speed to limit Williams’ scrambling and get a couple sacks.
This game is a toss up but my gut tells me the Hokies can win but this will be a decisive game in the ACC Coastal. The Tar Heels might come out a little more desperate if they lose to Clemson the week before in what is a very tough stretch that includes a road trip to Notre Dame the following week. Right now, I say that the Hokies win this one but like the Duke game, we won’t get a good feel to how close this game will be till a few games are played.