Defense big again as Virginia Tech prevails
BLACKSBURG, Va. (AP)—The new quarterback is still getting intense on-the-job-training, and the offensive line still hasn’t found a combination that works well.
Good thing for Virginia Tech it can always count on its defense.
Xavier Adibi set up one short touchdown drive with an interception and long return, Virginia Tech stopped another drive by forcing a fumble deep in its own territory and the No. 17 Hokies won their third straight, 17-10, against North Carolina on Saturday.
“It was closer than we would have liked it to have been, but you have to just go with it,” said linebacker Cam Martin, who helped snuff out the Tar Heels’ last chance with his third sack. “We came out with a win, and that’s all that matters.”
It was one of six sacks for the Hokies (4-1, 1-0 Atlantic Coast Conference).
“I’ve been watching Tech football all my life, seeing those big plays,” Martin said. “Just being able to come up with one like that, it’s amazing.”
The Hokies winning streak has coincided with the insertion of freshman Tyrod Taylor at quarterback, and against the Tar Heels it was obvious he still has much to learn. At times unsure whether to scramble or throw, he finished 10-for-19 passing for just 66 yards with an interception, ran 11 times for 11 yards and took four sacks.
One of his runs was a 5-yard touchdown scramble on the opening drive.
Looking at film this week and trying to work out the kinks in advance of a visit to No. 13 Clemson, coach Frank Beamer said the questions asked will be these:
“Are you looking where you need to be looking? Should the ball be getting out of there or should you be scrambling?” he said without trying to sound too critical. “We’re into some new stuff, different stuff offensively. We’re still in the process of, No. 1, getting good at that, and No. 2, playing a quarterback that’s learning every snap.”
Branden Ore, meanwhile, still hasn’t found the form that produced 1,100 yards and 17 touchdowns last season, but did gain 93 yards on 19 carries, including a 1-yard TD. The Hokies finished with just 241 yards.
North Carolina had 306 yards, but scored its second touchdown late in the final quarter and never really seemed much of a threat.
“They bring the blitzes, they rotate those defensive linemen out so they’re always fresh,” quarterback J.T. Yates said. “They did a good job of putting pressure on me.”
Yates was 16-for-25 for 182 yards with one interception. Half of his completions went to Hakeem Nicks, whose career-best eight receptions went for 94 yards.
Ore’s touchdown with 2:17 left in the third quarter gave the Hokies a 17-3 lead and breathing room. It was set up by Adibi’s interception return to the Tar Heels’ 12, which came after Orion Martin—Cam’s brother—forced Ryan Houston to fumble at the Hokies 5, the ball bouncing into the end zone where Kam Chancellor recovered it.
“When they absolutely had to, our defense stepped up,” Beamer said.
North Carolina (1-4, 0-2) closed to within a touchdown on Anthony Elzy’s 1-yard TD run with 5:34 left. NC got the ball one last time after the Hokies punted.
Starting at their 14 with just over 4 minutes left, the Tar Heels moved quickly to midfield with help of Elzy’s 25-yard run. On third-and-2 from the Hokies 44, Cam Martin pulled Yates down for a 5-yard loss. A fourth-down pass fell incomplete.
North Carolina coach Butch Davis said he saw signs of progress.
“We’re so far away from being experienced that it’s laughable as young as this football team is,” he said. “Every game is a revelation. Every game we go and play, the players find out more about themselves and we find out more about them.”
The Hokies got several booming punts from Brent Bowden, allowing them to win the field position battle. Their inability to cash in on that good position was troubling, especially now that they are in conference play and about to step up significantly in class. Next week, they travel to No. 13 Clemson.
The Hokies went 70 yards in seven plays the first time they got the ball, but mounted only one other drive in the first half. That one ended on an interception when tight end Sam Wheeler tipped a pass near the end zone and Deunta Williams intercepted for the Tar Heels.
Williams returned it to the 49, and Yates’ 18-yard pass to Nicks and a 10-yard run by Houston highlighted their march to Connor Barth’s 32-yard field goal. It was the school-record 15th consecutive made field goal for Barth dating to the 2005 season.