Gameday: UNC vs. VT

North Carolina (0-1, 0-0 ACC) looks to get its defense in gear this week, while facing the team with the nation’s best a year ago. No. 16 Virginia Tech (1-0, 0-0) rolls into Kenan Stadium on Saturday to face a Tar Heels team coming off a disappointing loss to Rutgers. The game will be televised nationally at noon on ESPN-HD.

“This team we’re playing is obviously the King of the ACC,” UNC coach John Bunting said. “They’re 14-2, 8-0 on the road [in their two years of ACC play]. That’s a pretty awesome record – eight wins and zero losses on the road.”

North Carolina allowed 217 rushing yards in its season-opening loss — and the the front seven must be greatly improved in Week 2 if the Heels hope to beat the Hokies.

“I’m excited about playing again and seeing us improve as a defense because I have high expectations of them,” said Bunting. “In order to be a successful team, in order to be a good team, in order to have a championship team, you need to have great defense. I want to see us play great defense. I think that we can.”

On offense, for at least one quarter against Rutgers – the fourth and decisive one – Carolina was effective in moving the ball and coming up with a couple of key defensive stops. UNC quarterback Joe Dailey threw for 121 of his 234 yards in the fourth quarter, while the defense held Rutgers scoreless, forced two punts and got a big three-and-out that gave the offense one more legitimate shot. UNC will try to carry that momentum into Saturday against the Hokies, who are favored by more than a touchdown.

“I know [North Carolina] is a disappointed team from the loss last weekend,” said Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer. “They’ve got a good football team. They like their quarterback and he made some good throws [against Rutgers] … their receivers are big, tall guys. Defensively, they’re a strong team as well.”

Virginia Tech is coming off a 38-0 home opening win over I-AA Northeastern.

The Tar Heels have been competitive with the Hokies the last two seasons – save for the second half last year. In 2004, UNC came up short on its final drive for a 27-24 home loss. Last season in Blacksburg, the Tar Heels trailed by just three at the half, before Virginia Tech pulled away for a 30-3 victory.

“It’s a team that we’ve played real tight with for three of four halves,” Bunting said. “The entire game down here in ‘04 … that was a very, very tight game. We were one play away from tying or winning. And of course up there, it was a 6-3 halftime game. We didn’t come out and play very well in the second half, but I’m looking forward to having them down here again.”

Bunting-coached teams have had a knack for backing up sub-par showings with remarkably surprising rebound efforts. This year’s team’s collective backs aren’t up against the wall just yet, but with back-to-back road games against Clemson and Miami two weeks away, a loss to Virginia Tech would put the Tar Heels in a tough early season spot.

“The one thing you know—you’re going to see a much better football team this week than played last week,” Beamer said of the Tar Heels.