(North Carolina) OFFENSE: North Carolina’s freshman quarterback had his team on the doorstep of a historic upset of Clemson. He’s thrown for more than 250 yards three times this season and has 15 touchdowns to three interceptions. Howell’s success has allowed the Tar Heels talented skill players to be much more productive than they were a year ago. Tech’s new quarterback Hendon Hooker has played well since taking over as the team’s starting quarterback, but one of those games came against a weaker FCS opponent. Fans can probably expect some growing pains in the weeks ahead.
(Even) DEFENSE: Injuries are mounting for North Carolina’s secondary. The Tar Heels lost starting defensive back Patrice Rene back in Week 2 and now have lost starting defensive back Trey Morrison and strong safety Cam’Ron Kelly to injuries. North Carolina’s starting defensive backs will have a combined 10 games of experience on Saturday, which should create some opportunities for Virginia Tech’s offense. Tech’s secondary will be missing Reggie Floyd for the first half on Saturday — he’s serving a suspension for targeting — but even at 100% the group has struggled in recent games giving up an average of 377 passing yards the last two weeks. That number is 200 yards more than their season average through the first four games (163 yards allowed). If Howell has a similar game as N’Kosi Perry did two weeks ago that could spell trouble for Tech.
(Virginia Tech) SPECIAL TEAMS: Virginia Tech has shut down the return game of its opponents thanks to the success of punter Oscar Bradburn and kickoff specialist John Parker Romo. The Hokies have only allowed six punt returns all seasons and five kick returns since Romo took over. North Carolina’s field goal kicker Noah Ruggles has decent range — he hit a 49-yarder this year — but the rest of the Tar Heels special teams units are pretty pedestrian.
(Virginia Tech) INTANGIBLES: Virginia Tech announced earlier in the week it sold out Lane Stadium for this weekend’s showdown. It’s the Hokies first sell out since early November of last year and the first time the program will have more than 60,000 fans in attendance for a home game this season. Tech has struggled at home going back to 2017 losing five of six games against Power 5 opponents. Fans are desperate for that to change.