UNC-VT game recap
With sophomore Marquise Williams handing off to freshman Khris Francis, freshman receiver Bug Howard out wide and two freshmen on the offensive line, North Carolina got a glimpse of its future during its first touchdown drive Saturday.
Unfortunately for the Tar Heels, the future soon may be all the team has to look forward to.
In a season that started with talk of a Coastal Division title, UNC now needs a turnaround to avoid missing the postseason entirely.
With Williams taking the place of senior Bryn Renner, who went through warm-ups but couldn’t plant on his injured right ankle, the Tar Heels lost 27-17 to the Hokies (5-1, 2-0) at Lane Stadium.
A week after giving up more than 600 yards to East Carolina, UNC shut down Virginia Tech’s running game (48 yards on 34 carries) but once again was foiled by missed assignments in the secondary.
Hokies senior Logan Thomas completed 19-of-28 passes for 293 yards and three touchdowns, including a 45-yard scoring pass to Demitri Knowles and an 83-yard pass to Willie Byrn.
“When a defensive lineman or linebacker mess up, it’s typically a first down,” cornerback Jabari Price said. “We have to perfect on the back end because when we mess up, it’s a touchdown. That’s just how it works, and I know what we signed up for.”
Meanwhile, Williams was 23-of-35 for 277 yards and two touchdowns on his 21st birthday in place of Renner, who had started UNC’s previous 29 games. But the sophomore from Charlotte also threw two interceptions as the Tar Heels were held to 10 points until the final minutes against the Hokies’ fourth-ranked defense.
“It was good to see our guys turn loose a bit and play, but we just made too many mistakes on the road to be able to win a game like that,” UNC coach Larry Fedora said.
The team also had a touchdown brought back by a penalty for the third straight game, as freshman Ryan Switzer’s 81-yard punt return was negated because of a block in the back. Switzer also had an 82-yard reception against Georgia Tech called back because of a hold.
“We’ve got to do a better job of coaching,” Fedora said. “The kids have got to do a better job of playing and being more disciplined. We’ve got to cut out the small mistakes that we’re making.”
Switzer also fumbled a punt deep in Virginia Tech territory late in the game, sealing the Hokies win, while tight end/linebacker Jack Tabb was ejected for throwing a punch.
Renner rolled his ankle late in last week’s 55-21 loss to East Carolina. While Fedora said after Saturday’s game that the ACC’s leading passer was a game-time decision, Williams said he realized during Friday’s walkthrough that Renner couldn’t go.
Fedora said he simplified the offense and slowed it down for Williams, who had thrown one pass and had three carries in UNC’s first four games.
The Tar Heels gained just 26 yards in three first quarter drives, but Williams finally aired it out to start the second quarter, going 5-of-7 for 85 yards — including a 40-yard bubble screen to Quinshad Davis and a 6-yard touchdown to Eric Ebron, who fought off a Virginia Tech defender in the air.
“There was a lot of questions, could Marquise Williams throw the football?” said Williams, who led the team with 56 yards on 18 carries. “I think I proved that to myself today, that I could really throw the football.”
But that possession only cut the deficit to 14-7 after Virginia Tech put together 73- and 77-yard touchdown drives.
Price said the first Hokies touchdown — a 45-yard pass to Knowles — resulted from a miscommunication of the call from the sideline that left Knowles running past cornerback Tim Scott and safety Dominique Green.
Price said the defense was misaligned in the second quarter, when Byrn got behind the defense for an 83-yard gain — the sixth-longest pass play against UNC in its history.
D.J. Coles then scored on a 5-yard pass, putting the Hokies up 21-7 with 2:44 left in the second quarter.
“You have to be perfect when you’re playing good teams like Virginia Tech. We knew their defense was going to come out and pressure our young quarterback and we had to meet them halfway, and we didn’t get quite it done.”
The defense held the Hokies to just 64 yards in the second half, including three straight three-and-outs in the third quarter.
But a block in the back by Malik Simmons wiped out Switzer’s big return, and when UNC finally got to the Hokies’ 5, a sack of Williams and a nine-yard loss on a reverse by Thorpe forced UNC to kick a field goal.
Early in the fourth quarter, Kyle Fuller ripped away a pass from Tabb on fourth-and-1 from the Hokies’ 33, and Virginia Tech held the ball for the next nine minutes, thanks partly to the muffed punt by Switzer at the UNC 17.
The Tar Heels now have a bye week before hosting No. 14 Miami in a Thursday night game on Oct. 17. The schedule gets easier after that, if UNC can keep its focus enough to take advantage.
“I feel great where we are,” junior bandit Darius Lipford said. “Even though it doesn’t look as good on paper to us, I know that we have enough talent to be successful for the rest of the season. We just need to get a win to get us on the right foot.”