Running up obscene scoring and yardage numbers Saturday, North Carolina ensured Justin Hamilton’s first game as Virginia Tech’s active defensive coordinator will be one to forget.
UNC blew past No. 19 Virginia Tech 56-45, rolling up 656 yards - the most since Alabama had 833 yards in 1973 against the Hokies. UNC’s point production was matched the second-most scored against Tech since that game in ’73 against Alabama, which defeated Tech 77-6.
Missed tackles plagued Tech (2-1, 2-1 ACC), which was without 15 players including starting safeties Divine Deablo and Keonta Jenkins because of coronavirus positive tests, injuries and other issues. Michael Carter had 17 carries for 214 yards and two touchdowns for No. 8 UNC, which also saw Javonte Williams run 20 times for 169 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Carter and Williams combined for the bulk of UNC’s 399 rushing yards. UNC (3-0, 3-0) averaged 9.9 yards per play.
UNC quarterback Sam Howell completed 18 of 23 passes for 257 yards and three touchdowns. His primary target was Hampton High graduate Dazz Newsome, who led the Tar Heels with seven catches for 69 yards and a touchdown.
Hamilton missed Tech’s first two games while quarantining because of the coronavirus. Though his first game as Tech’s active defensive coordinator left him with more questions than answers about his group, Tech managed to make it competitive for a short stretch in the third quarter.
After falling behind 42-17 with 7:14 left in the third quarter, Tech bounced back to cut UNC’s lead to 42-37 with 15 seconds remaining in the quarter. Tech’s comeback included a successful onside kick recovery while trailing 42-24 with 5:58 remaining in the quarter.
Tech running back Khalil Herbert, who had 18 carries for 138 yards for two touchdowns and became the first Hokies running back with three consecutive games of 100-plus rushing yards since Travon McMillian in 2015, capitalized on the onside recovery by scoring on a 52-yard touchdown run with 5:04 remaining to cut UNC’s lead to 42-31.
Playing for the first time this season, Hendon Hooker got in for one possession in the first half in relief of starter Braxton Burmeister, but Hooker played the entire second half. His 33-yard touchdown pass to Cox High product Tayvion Robinson with 15 seconds left in the third quarter dropped UNC’s edge to 42-37, but it was as close as the Hokies would get.
Hooker was 7 of 13 passing for 136 yards and two touchdowns. Burmeister completed 7 of 15 passes for 79 yards, and ran 11 times for 51 yards.
As intriguing as Tech’s quarterback situation in the first half may have been, it had very little to do with why Tech trailed 35-14 at halftime. A poor defensive effort accounted for the majority of Tech’s troubles in the early going.
Tech surrendered 372 yards in the first two quarters. After a relatively uninspiring start to the season in his first two games (520 yards combined, three touchdowns and three interceptions), Howell was 14-of-18 passing for 186 yards and two touchdowns Saturday by halftime.
UNC found the end zone on its first three drives - touchdown runs of 1 yard and 19 yards by running back Javonte Williams and a 37-yard touchdown pass from Howell to wide receiver Dyami Brown, who got behind Catholic High alum Armani Chatman - to build a 21-0 advantage with 4:09 left in the first quarter.
If not for Brown’s drops in the first half, UNC could’ve led by an even bigger margin. Instead, Tech was able to trim the deficit to 21-14 in the second quarter behind a pair of touchdown drives led by Burmeister.
Tight end James Mitchell capped an 11-play, 75-yard drive that featured two third-down conversions with a 1-yard touchdown run, cutting UNC’s lead to 21-7 in the first minute of the second quarter.
UNC went three plays and out on its next drive, and Tech answered with a 9-play, 70-yard drive highlighted by Herbert’s 8-yard touchdown run where he picked his way along the offensive line before finding an opening up the Hokies' sideline. His touchdown run with 6:28 remaining in the first half reduced UNC’s lead to 21-14.
Burmeister was a combined 4-of-6 passing for 67 yards on the two scoring drives, and ran seven times for 39 yards. He was replaced by Hooker for one possession separating the scoring drives.
Despite Tech’s resilience on offense, it didn’t have many answers for UNC when the Tar Heels weren’t hurting themselves with drops.
Right after Tech got within seven points of the lead, UNC got its running game in gear. Michael Carter had a pair of carries for 38 yards and Javonte Williams added two rushes for 31 yards on a scoring drive finished by Newsome’s 6-yard touchdown run featuring a flip into the end zone with 4:17 left in the second quarter.
Unable to get in scoring range on its next drive, Tech went for it on fourth-and-3 from UNC’s 42, but failed to convert.
Not content to sit on a 14-point lead after taking over with 1:11 left before halftime, UNC tacked on more points when Howell connected with Brown, who slipped behind cornerback Jermaine Waller on a 43-yard touchdown catch to extend the Tar Heels’ cushion to 35-14 with 16 seconds left.
Norm Wood, 757-247-4644, email@example.com
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