Despite these shortcomings, one thing that the Hokies get absolutely, positively right is the atmosphere on football gamedays. Lane Stadium is, objectively, one of the best places to watch a football game in the country. Everyone knows to wear that ugly Chicago maroon and burnt orange. Everyone knows how to do the annoying cheers, and they do them in unison. That stupid turkey mascot looks like he (or she) would run through a brick wall if it meant that the Hokies would win. Though they may be self-righteous occasionally, the fans in Blacksburg are generally respectful of their opponents and care deeply about their own team. Frank Beamer usually fields one of the best squads in the ACC, and the level of fan commitment, though not the only factor, has played no small part in Tech’s recent 7-1 run against Carolina since joining the conference in 2004.
This weekend, though, the script was flipped. Kenan Stadium was absolutely rocking leading up to kickoff. The fans were fully invested, with nearly everyone donning the appropriate colored shirt or paint to create a well-executed “White-Out.” My friends were all excited for the game, even the ones that claimed not to care about football at all. Say what you want about home-field advantage, but I feel confident that the raucous atmosphere played a big role in the Tar Heels’ relatively easy 48-34 win; Coach Fedora seemed to agree, pointing up at the student section with a big grin on his face as he walked into the tunnel following the game.
Perhaps the Hokies are simply having a down year, which seems likely given their earlier shellackings at the hands of Pitt and Cincinnati. Still, UNC put up some historic offensive numbers against VT. The 48 points the Heels scored were the most that Virginia Tech has allowed since joining the ACC. Virginia Tech gave up 339 rushing yards on Saturday, which is the most accumulated against them by an opponent that doesn’t run the option since Beamer became head coach in 1987. Gio Bernard personally gained 262 yards on 22 carries, which is more than any individual had ever racked up against the Hokies. Not even Tech’s traditionally strong special teams were spared, as Sean Tapley scored Carolina’s first touchdown of the game on a 94-yard kickoff return; it was the first kick-return touchdown allowed by Tech since 1993, breaking the longest active streak in the country.
The most amazing part of the performance by the Tar Heels was that it could have been even better. UNC was sloppy at times on both sides of the ball, getting called for 15 penalties for 126 yards. The defense allowed several big plays, including a 49-yard touchdown pass over the top to Marcus Davis on a mediocre double-move. Gio Bernard, brilliant otherwise, muffed a punt near halftime and allowed Virginia Tech to mount a late drive. The Hokies were able to run back a kickoff for a touchdown because of some poor tackling by the UNC special teams, which cut the lead down to nine midway through the third quarter. The defensive line struggled at times to get pressure on Logan Thomas, though the referees were less than stellar and failed to call obvious holds on several plays. Ultimately, though, the defense forced a couple big turnovers (Tim Scott’s interception and Travis Hughes’ strip of Michael Holmes) and ensured that the offense’s incredible effort did not go to waste.
The Fedora Formula is simple: Effective Spread Offense + Key Defensive Plays + Loud Crowd = Victory. Against Virginia Tech, the Heels finally plugged all the pieces into the equation, and the resulting win serves as proof that when executing properly for four quarters, UNC can play with anyone. Can we do it consistently? Well, that remains to be seen.