North Carolina travels to Blacksburg to take on Virginia Tech on Friday night as the Tar Heels kick off their most highly anticipated season since they entered 1997 ranked 7th in the AP Poll.
The last time Carolina started the season with an ACC road game was 2005 when the Tar Heels played at No. 17 Georgia Tech and lost 21-27. Not only is the matchup an ACC game right off the bat, but also a Coastal Division game. While Virginia Tech projects to be a middle-of-the-pack team in 2021, Lane Stadium is never an easy place to win.
If the Tar Heels want to ultimately square off against (probably) Clemson in the ACC Championship Game, beating Virginia Tech on the road is a big first step along the way.
With bona-fide Heisman candidate junior quarterback Sam Howell returning under center and Mack Brown now in the third year of his second stint as head coach in Chapel Hill, Carolina is primed to have its best season since falling just short in the ACC Championship game against No. 1 Clemson in the 2015 ACC Championship Game.
Carolina placed three players on the All-ACC Preseason team with offensive players QB Sam Howell and OG Joshua Ezeudu and CB Tony Grimes on defense. Virginia Tech had one player on each side of the ball in TE James Mitchell and DE Amare’ Barno.
As a reminder, due to COVID-19 the ACC did away with divisions for the 2020 season and all 14 teams (plus Notre Dame, who officially joined for the 2020 season) were together as one big conference for the first time since 2004. North Carolina finished the season No. 18 in the country, and 4th in the ACC with an 8-4 record, 7-3 in conference. Virginia Tech finished 8th in the conference with a 5-6 overall record, 5-5 in conference.
The two schools played last season on October 10 in Chapel Hill. North Carolina won a high-scoring affair 56-45. Sam Howell threw for 257 yards and three touchdowns, while Michael Carter and Javonte Williams each ran for two touchdowns while combining for 384 rushing yards. Dazz Newsome hauled in seven catches for 69 yards and a touchdown and Dyami Brown had three catches for 86 yards and two touchdowns.
As you can tell from the absence of the four names above on this year’s roster, Sam Howell will have to learn to trust a mostly new crop of talent around him.
QB Braxton Burmeister (RS Jr.) will be under center for the Hokies. In last year’s matchup he was 7-15 for 79 yards and zero touchdowns and added 11 rushes for 51 yards.
Justin Fuente is entering his 6th season at the helm for the Hokies. He holds at 38-26 record at Virginia Tech and a 64-49 overall head coaching record.
2020 marks the first time Carolina has been ranked in the preseason AP top-10 since 1997, when they were ranked 7th. This is also just the fourth time ever the Tar Heels have held such a distinction. The other two instances include 1982 (ranked 5th, the highest ever for Carolina) and 1958 (ranked 10th).
Here’s everything you need to know about Game 1 of the 2021 UNC football season:
- #10/9 North Carolina (0-0) at Virginia Tech (0-0)
- Blacksburg, VA.
- Lane Stadium
- Friday, September 3, 2021
- 6 p.m. ET
All-time series: VT leads 24-13-6
Series Streak: UNC – won 1 (10/10/20, 56-45)
Record: 0-0 (0-0 ACC)
Head Coach: Mack Brown (Florida State, '74)
Overall Record: 259-132-1, 33rd year
Record at UNC: 84-56-1, 13th year
Record: 0-0 (0-0 ACC)
Head Coach: Justin Fuente (Murray State, '99)
Overall Record: 64-49, 10th year
Record at Virginia Tech: 38-26, 6th year
- UNC Captains: Joshua Ezeudu, Tomon Fox, Jeremiah Gemmel, Sam Howell
- Carolina will kick off to Virginia Tech
- So strange and so beautiful to see a full football stadium again.
- Virginia Tech starts with the ball and a 9-yard pick up on the first play from scrimmage of the season. Burmeister picks up the first down with his legs on the next play.
- 33-yard pick up on a dump-off to Blackshear coming out of the backfield.
- First 3rd down opportunity of the season for Carolina and they can't get off the field. VT down to the UNC 9. Play is under review however.
- Play stands. 1st & Goal from the 9 for VT.
- Burmeister TD on a 4-yard keeper. 8-play drive. 7-0 Hokies. 10:01 to go in the first quarter.
- Touchback on the kickoff so Sam Howell will start the first drive of his junior year from the Carolins 25.
- Incomplete on first pass of the season, but Howell hits Josh Downs in stride coming across the middle on second down for the first 1st down of the season.
- False start puts the Heels behind schedule and after a couple incomplete passes, the Tar Heels punt and a hit with a face mask on punt coverage.
- VT's 2nd drive starts at their own 35 after the face mask penalty. Hokies are across mid-field again, this time in 2 plays (5-yard pass, 11-yard run).
- Carolina gets to 3rd down but leaves the middle wide open and Burmeister picks up the first down with his legs again.
- Hokies are not very balanced in playcalling yet - 18 of first 20 are on the ground. Heels have to prove they can stop it.
- FUMBLE. Huge turnover for Carolina in the Red Zone. Howell immediately gets a 23-yard connection with Des Evans for a first down.
- Great run from Sam Howell to pick up a first down on 3rd and 10.
- Heels into VT territory for the first time tonight. Ty Chandler runs for his first 1st down as a Tar Heel.
- Howell sacked on 3rd & 7. Heels will have to punt.
- Fumbled snap for VT on first down loses 6 yards.
- 3rd & 13 for VT from their own 17 - Heels allow Hokies to pick up another first down in a wide-open middle of the field.
- Hokies right back into Tar Heel territory. Carolina defense will need to make big time halftime adjustments.
- Heels get a nice TFL but VT picks up a 34-yard completion to the 8.
- Virginia Tech miscues are the only thing stopping them at this point. Dropped wide-open pass in the end zone. RB fumble in the backfield.
- Touchdown on 3rd & goal from the 11. 14-0 Hokies.
- Sam Howell has 3:07 to try and put the Tar Heels on the scoreboard before halftime.
- Inauspicious start as Howell is sacked on first down. Incomplete on 2nd down. Finally a completion on 3rd down, but Downs is 2 yards shy. Heels will take a time out with 4th & 2 and 1:37 on the clock. Heels ultimately punt.
- VT has 90 seconds and the ball on their own 30. Conservative play calling. 3rd down and 9. Heels take a timeout with 0:41 left. Heels get the sack and a timeout with 0:34 to go. Carolina will get one more crack before halftime.
- Great punt puts Carolina at their own 25.
- Howell picks up one first down. Heels with one Hail Mary shot from the 41. They pick up 46 on a run from DJ Jones, but nothing more and the clock runs out. Halftime. 14-0 VT.
- Carolina is fortunate to only be down 14.
- VT is 6-7 on third down, the only miss was just before the half.
- VT holds the TOP lead 20:49 to 9:08.
- Heels need to make something of the first drive of the second half to get momentum back in the favor.
- Heels to receive the 2nd half kickoff. Touchback. Carolina ball at the 25.
- More of the same to start the second half - 4 yard loss on first play from scrimmage. Antoine Green hauls in a 10 yard catch and Carolina has a manageable 3rd & 4. 2-yard rush on 3rd down and Carolina will have to punt.
- Heels finally get off the field on 3rd down. Both teams punt to start 2nd half.
- Sam Howell rushes for another first down, which has been the most consistent part of the Tar Heel offense thus far.
- Make that back-to-back rushing first downs for Howell.
- Interception for Virginia Tech. VT DB wrestles the ball away for the pick.
- 3rd & 12 for VT. Can Heels get off the field? Yes. Incomplete pass on a screen. Back-to-back three-and-outs.
- Heels doing just enough on defense now, but need to put the ball in the end zone. Will need to find offense somewhere other than Howell's legs.
- Close to a first down for Carolina on pass to Simmons. Measurement coming. Short. 4th & inches.
- Carolina will go for it from their own 49. First down and nine yards for JD Jones. Carolina at the VT 43.
- TOUCHDOWN Josh Downs for 37 yards. Short pass and out-ran the VT secondary to the house. 14-7 VT. 4:20 left in the 3rd.
- Great open field tackle from Conley to limit Burmeister escaping the pocket. 3rd down and long and it's the end of the 3rd quarter.
- Another big 3rd down play upcoming at the beginning of the 4th quarter. Can Carolina get off the field?
- Heels get the stop, but VT connects on a 48-yard field goal. 17-7 Hokies early in the 4th.
- Another big connection to Josh Downs (16 yards) on 2nd and 15 and the Heels are in business. But a missed block on the next play and Jones gets blown up right after receiving the pass. He's down and being attended to.
- 3rd & 15 - Another Josh Downs connection but he is tripped up just shy of the first down. Heels go for it on 4th & 3 from their own 43 and can't connect. Need a huge defensive stand.
- And they get it! Interception to Conley on the first play from scrimmage.
- Heels turn it right back over two plays later. Tipped pass is caught just before it hits the ground. Hokie ball at UNC 36. 11:48 to go.
- TD Hokies on a 13 yard connection. Danger time for Carolina.
- Play is being reviewed. Receiver appeared to come down out of bounds. And the call is indeed reversed. 3rd & 9 for VT from the 13.
- Great defensive stop from Tony Grimes who was 1 on 1 on the outside. Another VT field goal attempt upcoming. Miss! Carolina takes over at their own 20 with 9:39 left.
- 25-yard completion to Josh Downs on first down. And then Sam Howell misses a WIDE OPEN Garrett Walston down the sideline. Ty Chandler follows up with a 23-yard run - his longest of the game.
- 3rd & 9 upcoming from the VT 31. Howell's pass down the middle to Simmons draws defensive PI.
- Howell sacked on 3rd down and Carolina settles for a FG. 17-10 VT. 5:53 left.
- VT out near midfield and trying to salt the game away on the ground. Huge 3rd down coming. Hokies need 6 yards. Clock under 4:00 now.
- Hokies elect to throw and an errant pass gives Carolina a free timeout. They'll get the ball with all three timeouts and 3:17 on the clock.
- Here's Sam Howell's opportunity to put together a drive to get the Heels tied. Carolina ball at the 13.
- Ty Chandler picks up 12 to give Carolina some breathing room.
- 3rd and 6 upcoming. Walston can't haul in Howell's 2nd down throw.
- Incomplete. 4th & 6. Carolina will go for it with 2:22 left.
- Complete to Antoine Green for a first down but Heels have an ineliglbe downfield.
- 4th & 11 from the Carolina 24. First down to Emery Simmons! 1:51 to go. Heels still have all 3 timeouts.
- First down Chandler to the 43.
- Sam Howell throws a desperation pass to avoid losing yardage and is picked off. Ball game likely over. Heels do have all 3 timeouts though. 0:37 to go.
- First down VT. Heels forced to take a timeout. That'll likely do it.
Virginia Tech - 17
North Carolina - 10