North Carolina Tar Heels (6-4 SU, 4-5 ATS) at No. 9 Virginia Tech Hokies (9-1 SU, 3-6 ATS) Thursday, November 17th, 2011. 8:00PM EST. College Football Week 12
Lane Stadium Blacksburg, Va.
By Jay Horne, College Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: UNC +10.5/Va Tech -10.5
Over/Under Total: 47
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The Virginia Tech Hokies scored a monumental win last Thursday night on the road at Georgia Tech. The win put the Hokies in the driver seat in the ACC Coastal Division with the potential to square off in a rematch with the Clemson Tigers for the ACC Championship. Still, the Hokies have to avoid the upset bug that has plagued many top 10 teams this year to keep those possibilities alive. This week the 9th ranked Hokies will welcome the North Carolina Tar Heels to Lane Stadium for Thursday Night Football in the ACC.
The Tar Heels have put together a fairly respectable 6-4 mark this season despite troubles off the field with the NCAA. In fact, North Carolina could be sitting at the 8-2 mark if not for some nail biting losses to both Miami and Georgia Tech. Not bad for a team that fired Coach Butch Davis and was hit with numerous NCAA rules violations over the summer. After those off-season troubles transpired earlier this year, many thought the Tar Heels would spend the entire 2011 season picking up shattered pieces of the program. Instead, North Carolina’s young talent has shined on the field this year instilling hope for the immediate and long term future.
One of the youngster’s that has helped renew North Carolina’s hope has been freshman running back Giovani Bernard. Bernard is one of the top rushers in the entire conference and has already eclipsed the 1,000 yard plateau on the season. Bernard has been a key player for North Carolina’s offense this season and has tallied impressive numbers in his first year. On the season, Bernard has averaged 5.4 yards per carry while racking up 11 touchdowns on the ground. This week Bernard and the rest of the North Carolina offensive front will be challenged against one of the better rush defenses in the nation.
Therefore if Bernard is going to get moving on the ground, Tar Heels QB Bryn Renner will need to make throws in the passing game to keep that Hokies defense on their heels. Renner has proved that he can play very well at times this year and North Carolina will need him to do so this Thursday night. On the year, Renner has completed an impressive 71.4 percent passing for 2,271 yards with 19 touchdowns and 11 picks. The thing about Renner is that he is very accurate throwing the ball, but makes the mental mistakes that sometimes lead to those dreaded turnovers.
Therefore it will be ever important that Renner maintains ball control and gets star WR Dwight Jones involved in the game. Jones is a big receiver that can take over in the passing game if given the opportunity. Jones has posted 964 receiving yards with 8 touchdowns on the year and can be a nightmare for defensive backs. So Renner must do his part to get Jones and the talented North Carolina wide outs the ball without making costly mistakes. A key statistic to keep in mind is that North Carolina is just 1-4 SU in games where Renner throws multiple interceptions and those turnovers could play a big role this Thursday night if they are made.
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For Virginia Tech, everyone knows that the Hokies run the ball extremely well as they sport the 25th best rushing offense averaging over 206 yards per game on the ground. However, QB Logan Thomas is quietly improving each week to help revive the Hokies passing attack. In the big 37-26 win over Georgia Tech last week, the Hokies made multiple big plays in the passing game that impacted the outcome.
Thomas attempted just 13 passes, but threw for 209 yards and 3 scores in the game. WR Danny Coale leads the team with 724 receiving yards and posted his 2nd straight 60 plus yard touchdown catch last week in the win over the Yellow Jackets. Earlier this year Virginia Tech appeared to be a one dimensional rushing team but they continue to improve each week in the passing game. If that trend continues, the Hokies are going to be a tough team to beat no matter who they play against.
Still even with the surging passing game, the Hokies bread and butter is between the tackles with running back David Wilson. Wilson leads the nation in rushing with 1,360 yards already this season. Wilson has averaged an impressive 6.5 yards per carry with 7 touchdowns on the ground. Those numbers may not seem eye popping, but consider the fact that every defense focuses on stopping the Hokies ground attack. Yet every defense, outside of Clemson, has failed thus far this year.
The good news for the Tar Heels fans hoping for an upset is that North Carolina has been rock solid against the run this year allowing just 108 yards per game on the ground (18th in NCAA). The bad news is they have yet to play a power rushing attack quite like the Hokies and David Wilson. The big question is which side will prevail this Thursday night in the national spotlight?
Jay’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Tough pick here on the side. I believe North Carolina’s defense should keep them in contention even if the Hokies make some big plays. The Hokies may get out to a double digit lead, but a backdoor cover cashes for the Tar Heels. Take North Carolina +10.5.
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