Virginia Tech - North Carolina: Keys to the game

Frank Beamer has to be sick of spending the last 10 days hearing nothing but how his team ruined its chance at a national title. It feels like it has been 10 months since the Hokies last hit the field, but tomorrow night the struggling North Carolina Tar Heels invade Lane Stadium.

On paper, it looks to set up as a one-sided affair, favoring the home team. In reality, this could be a scary endeavor for the former fourth-ranked team in the nation.

This is what each team must do if they hope to get out of tomorrow night's battle unscathed.

Virginia Tech

Protect the backfield

There will plenty of block parties this Halloween weekend in Blacksburg, but Hokie fans better hope their offensive line does some "block"ing of their own one night early. Against Georgia Tech (and Duke, Nebraska, and Alabama for that matter), the line struggled.

In the games where the front line has won the battle in the trenches, the Hokies have blown their opponents away. Their biggest problems have come against big-time defensive tackles, like Ndamukong Suh from Nebraska, and Vince Oghobase from Duke.

Tomorrow night, Marvin Austin will be the next future NFL defensive stuffer to line up opposite the maroon and orange. Keeping Austin off of Tyrod Taylor and Ryan Williams' backs must by priority no. 1. for the Hokies.

Get to Yates

Last season, Tar Heel quarterback T.J. Yates shredded the Hokie secondary before being injured late in the third quarter. That injury was thanks to a relentless effort from Tech's defensive line, a trademark of their 10-year defensive dominance.

It will be up to that aggressive, tenacious defense to pressure Yates again tomorrow night. This year, the Tar Heels are without receivers Hakeem Nicks and Brandon Tate, who murdered the Hokies in 2008.

Without such options to throw to, Yates can not be bailed out with great plays downfield should he be under much heat. A few early sacks and/or turnovers, and Lane Stadium will be rocking once again.

Don't Let Up

Too many people have already forgotten about this Tech team. What Frank Beamer must remind his team is they still have an opportunity to play in a BCS bowl game even if the ACC title eludes their grasp.

In order to make an impression on the voters, the Hokies need to use this nationally televised opportunity to make a bold statement that they belong in the upper echelon of the sport.

Losses to Georgia Tech on the road and to top-ranked Alabama are hardly anything to be ashamed of, but fact of the matter is, they both added a tally to the loss column, which has pushed them out of the spotlight for now.

Should the Hokies step out in front early a la the Boston College or Miami game, they should keep the pedal down and blast the Heels. There is little love lost between Beamer and Heels coach Butch Davis over the years, and a 40 or 50-point margin of victory, even over a mediocre UNC squad, would resonate throughout the college football world.

North Carolina

KISS (Keep it simple and short)

More often than not, Yates will not have much time in the pocket before Jason Worilds and Nekos Brown are bearing down on him from the outside. In that case, the Heels need to utilize a quick passing game that enables the ball to get out of the backfield quickly.

That will also force the back line of Tech's defense to do the one thing that has seemed hardest of all for them in 2009: tackle in the open field. If there is one Achilles' heel on the Hokies' team (not to say there are not more), that's it.

The best way to beat the Tech defense is to negate the pressure it applies, and get players the ball in space. It should be noted, this is much easier said than done.

Field position is crucial

As the Hokie offense has improved, its ability to score on quick-strike plays of 40-50 yards has improved more. North Carolina has to pin the Hokies as deep as possible, which includes making first downs on most drives, and covering punts and kickoffs to the highest level.

Dyrell Roberts and Jayron Hosely has been outstanding return men thus far in 2009, making several key plays that have broken games wide open for Tech. Carolina simply can not afford such plays.

It will be a hard enough task to move the football, but if the Heels are constantly playing on much longer fields than the Hokies, their chances aren't even slim, they're none.

Ignore the crowd

This is the toughest task of all: fend off a Lane Stadium atmosphere on a Thursday night. There is no team in America whose home venue carries quite the same mystique Thursday games, and unless your name is Matt Ryan, Blacksburg is where quarterbacks come to suffer in games like this.

Yates is a poised quarterback with experience, but it is yet to be seen how he handles the atmosphere tomorrow night. Opposing quarterbacks have not fared well in Lane so far in 2009, including Zac Lee, Jacory Harris, and David Shinskie. Yates has a chance to buck that trend, and if he can not, once again the Heels have no room for error.

Final Analysis

It won't be the blowout win the Hokies need, but in the end it should be a comfortable win for Tech. Austin will wreak havoc at times with Taylor and Williams, and there may be a few moans and groans emitting from the home crowd, but eventually the Tech defense will obliterate a pathetic Carolina offense.

Predicted score - Virginia Tech 33, North Carolina 9


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