Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and I don't know about you all, but a week without Hokie football always does seem to make me appreciate the first game post-bye all the more.
Of course, it probably didn't hurt that the Hokies were off last week, considering that Tech may well have lost to some underachieving in-conference team, given the fate that befell so much of the top 25. Considering that it was during last year's week 7 that the Hokies also lost to Syracuse (the Carrier Dome: it'll get after ya), maybe the bye came at an even better time than we might've thought.
So, now we've got a struggling UNC team coming to town for homecoming, and the Hokies are 21.5-point favorites (!).
Might this be some sort of look-ahead spot where Tech gets caught napping after a bye as Justin Fuente ready for the meat of the conference schedule? It's a scenario that shouldn't discounted.
There certainly is a lot on the line for this game, when it comes to smack talk at least, which brings us to our Tidbits.
As Larry Fedora has helped revitalize UNC's football program over the last few years, Tech's games against the Tar Heels always seemed to take on an extra level of meaning.
After all, the Hokies have long dipped into North Carolina to steal some top prospects (consider that Adonis Alexander and Mook Reyolds both hail from the state, among others), but Fedora's recent success made that process a bit more challenging. Lest we forget, the Heels beat Frank Beamer in his last home game in Lane, never a great look, even if UNC was much, much better than Tech that year.
So, yeah, people like Fuente are naturally going to dismiss this importance of the matchup to recruiting — "To me, if I was advising an 18-year-old on where to go to school, I don't know that I would stake a large portion of that on one football game," Fuente told reporters Monday — but it's foolish to discount the value of this game entirely.
Charley Wiles, Tech's lead recruiter in the area, certainly isn't going to.
Add in that this is Tech's homecoming game, and there's certainly an extra level here. The team is going to have a bevy of top prospects in attendance (insert a shameless plug for my future recruiting piece on the subject here), with few more important than 2018ers DE K.J. Henry and LB Dax Hollifield.
Henry is among the top prospects in the country, so impressing him will be key, though he isn't really considering the Heels. Hollifield very much is, however, even telling a 247Sports reporter that UNC is his leader (though he walked that back on Twitter).
In any case, the stakes are real for this game from a recruiting perspective. This time around, the Hokies are on the rise, ranked and, therefore, have something to lose. Asserting dominance may make for a tiresome narrative for the coaching staff, but putting a hurting on a division rival is never a bad thing when making the sales pitch to recruits.
After all, remember how good it felt last last year?
Rested and Ready WRs?
Last week, it seemed very much evident that the Hokies' WR group needed a week off to heal up from injury a bit. So, how are we doing post-bye?
Well, the first and most important question has to be about Cam Phillips, and Fuente confirmed Monday that he'd be practicing normally in the lead up to UNC.
Sean Savoy is also back with the team (which Fuente hopes will be "therapeutic" as he grieves the loss of his older brother), but it seems things are still a bit troublesome as we look down the depth chart.
As Shibest points out, those injuries will likely make the most difference on the kick return, as McMillian hasn't really worked in the return game since his debut season when he returned five whole kicks.
But Murphy showed signs of life against BC (he had three catches for 40 yards) and any injury can't help in the ongoing search to find reliable receiving options beyond Cam/Savoy.
Fuente expounded on Drake DeIuliis' work at WR a bit — in the "long term" he sees DeIuliis being a tight end, but he felt like "we didn't have a lot of a choice" but to burn his redshirt and play him at receiver after Cam went down — but the Hokies may also get some reinforcements at WR in the form of Phil Patterson. It seemed like he might not play at all this year, but perhaps the bye has finally allowed him to get healthy.
"It's important to Phil for him to make it back," Fuente told the media Monday. "He wants to go play and play at a high level and wants to do it as quickly as possible. We've been pleased with him and his progress or his urgency to get back it'll just be a matter of, some of it or most of it is out of your control how his body feels moving forward."
Considering that the Heels are thoroughly average when it comes to defending the pass — they're allowing 231 yards per game, 79th in the nation — newbies like DeIuliis and Patterson may very well get the chance to show off what they're made of.
Speaking of which, how are the Heels looking anyway?
Things Have Been Finer in Carolina
Andy Bitter of the Roanoke Times had perhaps the slickest turn of phrase this week when he suggested that UNC's "biggest victory this year came against the NCAA in its academic fraud case," but he's not necessarily wrong, either.
The Heels have just one non-sanctions avoidance win so far this year, against ODU, and as Bitter notes, they've been outscored 127-73 in ACC play. Their total offense is also way down statistically — with just 358 yards per game, good for 99th in the country, it's easy to miss ole Mitch(ell) Trubisky if you're a Heels fan.
It doesn't help matters that Fedora hasn't really been able to pick a quarterback, with his indecision echoing the Trubisky-Marquise Williams flip-flopping of years past, and the Hokies seem to be preparing accordingly.
Surratt seems to be the better option if you look solely at the stats — he has six touchdowns and three picks with a 59 percent completion percentage, compared to Harris' one touchdown, six picks and a 52-percent mark — and is also shaping up to be the quarterback of the future in a way the LSU transfer just can't be.
Nevertheless, Fedora has played each player plenty, with Harris playing in five games to Surratt's six. Surratt didn't even play on Sunday against UVA after Harris had "a better week of practice," according to Tar Heel Blog. Considering that he went 7 for 18 for 46 yards with three picks against the Hoos, I would submit that Larry needs to pay a little more attention at practice this week.
That ineptitude aside, it is worth noting that the Heels have had a tough schedule, all things considered — the season opener against Cal looks tougher than we might've thought, given the Bears' performance against Wazzu, while the second game against Lousville looks a little easier than we might've thought, given the head-scratching loss to BC — so it's not inconceivable that they could simply be mediocre and are getting crushed by a tough early slate.
This is where the Hokies being such big favorites and coming off a bye could come into play, and I confess I am very glad this isn't a nooner, so at least we won't have to hear how the Hokies "haven't woken up yet" should they have trouble early.
"They've had some hard luck, but when you look at their defensive line and their skill players on offense, you know, if you're not in the right gap or you're not coming of the ball the right way they can make you look pretty bad pretty quickly," Fuente said Monday. "We have a tremendous amount of respect for Coach Fedora and the program they have at North Carolina and the history and the talent that they have on that roster, so they certainly have our guys' full attention."
I leave you this week with a reminder that Charley Wiles is always good for a press conference laugh line.
Enjoy homecoming, TKPers.