No. 8 Tar Heels, No. 19 Hokies meet in key ACC matchup

No. 19 Virginia Tech (2-0, 2-0 ACC) at No. 8 North Carolina (2-0, 2-0), Saturday at noon ET (ABC).

Line: UNC by 4 1/2.

Series record: Virginia Tech leads 24-12-6.

WHAT’S AT STAKE?

This has quickly become a big matchup with the Atlantic Coast Conference fielding a jumbled group of teams chasing top-ranked and five-time reigning champion Clemson to contend for the league title. The Tar Heels have their highest ranking since late in the 2015 season after climbing four spots in the AP Top 25, while the Hokies are back in the poll after their own 2-0 start to the season.

KEY MATCHUP

UNC’s run defense against Virginia Tech’s ground game. The Hokies have been running to big numbers through their first two games. First came a 314-yard effort in their season-opening home win against North Carolina State. Then came 324 yards on the road last weekend at Duke, led by Kansas graduate transfer Khalil Herbert running for 207 yards to become the national leader (156.0). The Tar Heels, meanwhile, are leading the Bowl Subdivision ranks by surrendering 54 yards rushing per game — though coach Mack Brown hasn’t put too much stock in those numbers considering Syracuse was shorthanded at running back with a rebuilt offensive line while Boston College ran it just 19 times last week.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Virginia Tech: QB Braxton Burmeister or QB Hendon Hooker. Burmeister, an Oregon transfer, has started the first two games for the Hokies. Hooker, a returning starter, was unavailable against N.C. State then dressed but didn’t play against Duke. Hooker has remained atop the depth chart even in his absences.

UNC: WR Dazz Newsome. The senior had 1,108 yards and 10 touchdowns last year, but has managed just three catches for 31 yards in two games as opponents have sought to take away the deep ball.

FACTS & FIGURES

Virginia Tech won last year’s meeting in six overtimes, the longest game in ACC history. … The Hokies were down 23 players and two full-time coaches due to a combination of coronavirus and injury issues against N.C. State, then 21 players and two coaches against Duke. … Brown never coached against Virginia Tech during his first stint with the Tar Heels, though UNC beat Virginia Tech in the Gator Bowl to end the 1997 season immediately after Brown left for Texas. … The Tar Heels have won five straight games overall, allowing 11.6 points and 268.2 yards in those wins. … UNC QB Sam Howell has thrown three interceptions in two games after throwing seven in 13 games last season.

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