CHAPEL HILL, N.C. - Teams looking to improve their offensive efficiency meet Saturday when North Carolina hosts Virginia Tech. The Tar Heels have been off since committing six turnovers - three returned for touchdowns - and going a combined 3-of-16 on third and fourth down in a 47-10 loss to Miami (Fla.) on Sept. 27, while Hokies quarterback Ryan Willis led an offense that was perhaps too pass-happy and had to settle for field goals twice after reaching the Notre Dame 1-yard line last weekend.
TV: 7 p.m. ET, ESPNU. LINE: Virginia Tech -6.
Chazz Surratt, making his season debut after serving a three-game suspension for selling team-issued shoes, relieved North Carolina starting quarterback Nathan Elliott early and rushed for a touchdown, but was intercepted three times in just 10 throws. "We gave up 24 points on turnovers and most of those were on third-and-long,” Tar Heels coach Larry Fedora told reporters. “They did exactly what we thought they were going to do. They got us in some long-yardage situations and then brought a lot of heat on third-and-long, and we didn't handle it very well at all." Willis was 31-for-52 - the most passes attempted in a game during coach Justin Fuente’s three-year reign -- for 309 yards with two TDs and one interception in the 45-23 loss to the Irish in his second start since replacing injured two-year starter Josh Jackson. “The fumble (that was returned for a touchdown) was not good. I just thought he was doing too much,” Fuente said. “(Throwing the ball 50 times) certainly is not the way we'd like for it to be designed. … We probably knew we were going to throw the ball a little bit more this week, and then when you get behind, it distorts that number a little bit more, too.”
ABOUT VIRGINIA TECH (3-2, 2-0 ACC)
The Hokies trailed 17-16 early in the third quarter, holding the Fighting Irish to minus-5 rushing yards when Dexter Williams broke a 97-yard TD sparking an Irish offense that scored touchdowns on four of their first five second-half possessions to put the game away. Hokies sophomore Damon Hazelton tied a career high with 12 catches for 131 yards and a receiving TD in his fifth consecutive game - tying the school mark set by Isaiah Ford in 2015-16. Willis, who has completed 48-of-79 passes for 641 yards and five touchdowns in his two starts, is the first Tech quarterback since Logan Thomas in 2013 to throw for at least 300 yards in back-to-back games.
ABOUT NORTH CAROLINA (1-3, 1-1)
In the Miami loss, Surratt and Elliott combined to complete 20-of-35 passes for 110 yards with Elliott losing three fumbles to offset Surratt’s errant passes. Fedora has not announced his starter against the Hokies; Surratt completed four passes for 10 yards in his season debut after completing 58.5 percent of his passes with 13 total TDs (eight passing) against three interceptions last season; while Elliott has completed 58.1 percent of his 129 passes for 773 yards with three TDs and four interceptions this season. Undoubtedly, they will be looking to hand it to Antonio Williams, who has 281 yards and a 6.5 yards-per-carry average, and throw it to wide receiver Anthony Ratliff-Williams, who has 13 catches for 263 yards - good for a 20.2 yards-per-catch average.
1. Virginia Tech has won the last two contests with North Carolina under Fuente by a combined score of 93-10, and the Hokies have won 11 of 14 since meeting annually beginning in 2004.
2. Hazelton, who sat out the 2017 season after transferring from Ball State, tied the second-best single-game reception performance by an ACC player this season. It also tied his personal best of 12 catches he set with the Cardinals against Toledo on Nov. 16, 2016.
3. The 52 pass attempts by Willis were the most by a Tech team since Michael Brewer threw 56 times against East Carolina in 2014. In fact, Tech has won just one time under Fuente when throwing the ball at least 40 times in a game - Jerod Evans threw 40 times in the Hokies' 39-36 win over Pitt in 2016.
PREDICTION: Virginia Tech 36, North Carolina 17
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