BLACKSBURG, Va. – North Carolina used its bye week to rest and reset, and now looks to push toward an ACC Coastal Division title starting Saturday at Virginia Tech. The Tar Heels entered their idle date after two noteworthy contests, a one-point loss against then top-ranked Clemson followed by a resounding victory over Georgia Tech, and sitting in a three-way tie atop the division standings presents an opportunity not lost on coach Mack Brown entering the stretch run.
TV: 3:30 p.m. ET, RSN. LINE: North Carolina -3.5
"It's there for us," Brown told reporters Monday, following a week during which he gave his players Friday and Saturday off. "We control our own destiny and every team is as good as we are moving forward. So, we understand what's out there for us, and we've got to improve in a lot of areas." The Hokies have won two in a row since an ugly 45-10 loss to Coastal co-leader Duke on Sept. 27, blowing a 28-point lead before downing Miami and posting a non-conference triumph over Rhode Island. Limiting turnovers has been key, as Virginia Tech committed zero turnovers in the back-to-back victories after turning over the ball 11 times in its first four games. "We've been holding our own and winning those battles," Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente told reporters Monday. "I think it's given us a better chance to win games."
ABOUT NORTH CAROLINA (3-3, 2-1 ACC)
Freshman quarterback Sam Howell is second in the ACC and tied for 10th nationally with 15 touchdown passes, while ranking second in the league with 1,544 passing yards and third in passing yards per game (257.3). He completed 33-of-51 passes for 376 yards and four touchdowns in the Georgia Tech victory, while sophomore running back Javonte Williams rushed for a career-best 144 yards and is averaging 82 yards rushing per game - fifth in the ACC. Junior linebacker Chazz Surratt leads the Tar Heels with 46 tackles, and ranks tied for second with 5 1/2 tackles for loss and three sacks.
ABOUT VIRGINIA TECH (4-2, 1-2)
Sophomore quarterback Hendon Hooker has led the Hokies to victories in his first two starts since taking over full time for senior Ryan Willis, completing 55.1 percent of his passes for 453 yards with six touchdowns and no interceptions, plus 115 rushing yards and a score. Junior Damon Hazelton caught two touchdowns passes last week, as the Hokies scored on six of their eight possessions and finished with a season-best 485 yards of total offense. Junior linebacker Rayshard Ashby ranks fourth in the ACC with a team-best 54 tackles, including 2 1/2 sacks.
1. Virginia Tech junior RB Deshawn McClease has rushed for 283 yards on 43 carries with two touchdowns in his past three games, topping 100 yards in two contests.
2. The Tar Heels have been penalized just 32 times through six games, tied for fourth-fewest in the ACC and tied for 23rd nationally.
3. North Carolina and Virginia Tech are tied for second in the ACC with a 95.8 percent red-zone scoring percentage.
PREDICTION: North Carolina 33, Virginia Tech 27