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By Dave Holcomb
SouthernPigskin.com
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Dave Holcomb recaps Virginia Tech's primetime Friday night win.

We have heard it all week. College football is back with fans in the stands. That couldn’t have been more true in Blacksburg on Friday night.

The atmosphere looked absolutely electric at Lane Stadium when Virginia Tech took the field to Metallica’s Enter Sandman as is tradition in Blacksburg. It remained loud throughout the game, especially early when Virginia Tech built a two-touchdown lead.

Behind that fast start, the Hokies upset the No. 10 North Carolina Tar Heels, 17-10. It was Virginia Tech’s first win against an AP Top 10 team since 2009.

As impactful as the crowd was, the Hokies offense gave them reason to cheer after an 8-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to begin the game. Six different Virginia Tech players touched the ball on the possession, as Justin Fuente kept the North Carolina defense off balance with his game plan.

Quarterback Braxton Burmeister looked excellent early too, completing 7 of 8 passes for 130 yards and a touchdown to begin the night. He capped off the first drive with a 4-yard touchdown run as well, and his only incompletion in his first eight attempts was a dropped pass in the end zone.

Thanks in large part to Burnmeister’s fast start, Virginia Tech converted its first six third-down attempts. That extended drives and kept North Carolina quarterback and Heisman hopeful Sam Howell on the sideline. Virginia Tech possessed the ball in the first half for more than 20 minutes.

The second half was significantly less stellar for Burnmeister and the Hokies offense. After beginning 7 of 8, the junior signal caller was 5 for 11 the rest of the game. Virginia Tech scored only three points in the second half.

But that’s all the Hokies would need thanks to excellent defense. Last year, Virginia Tech gave up 56 points to North Carolina, but it took the Tar Heels more than 40 minutes to get on the board Friday night. They found the end zone just once; last year, North Carolina scored eight touchdowns versus Virginia Tech.

The Tar Heels achieved some success on the ground with graduate transfer Ty Chandler in the second half, but Howell had an awful night -- maybe the worst of his career.

Howell came into this season having never thrown a fourth-quarter interception. Virginia Tech intercepted him twice in the fourth quarter Friday and three times in the second half. Howell threw a pick in Virginia Tech territory with under a minute to play to essentially end the game.

The Hokies also sacked Howell six times, as the North Carolina quarterback often looked overwhelmed and confused. Inside the final minute, a Virginia Tech defender nearly had Howell within his grasp for a seventh sack before Howell spun out of the tackle. But when Howell tried to squeeze the ball to a receiver rather than throw it away, Hokies junior defensive back Chamarri Conner intercepted the pass on one of the game’s most pivotal plays.

Two of Virginia Tech’s six sacks came from junior defensive lineman Tyjuan Garbutt. Fellow junior defensive lineman Amare Barno had 1.5 sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss.

North Carolina lost more than 4,000 yards of offensive production from last year’s team, but with Howell back behind center, not many anticipated a huge dropoff for the Tar Heels offense. While one night doesn’t define a season, clearly, Howell and the North Carolina offense have work to do. Even behind a veteran offensive line, Howell looked uncomfortable, and his timing with the pass catchers was off.

It’s obviously a long season, and North Carolina will likely benefit from playing Georgia State next week and then a home game the following Saturday against Virginia. But with this loss, all the pressure is on Howell and the Tar Heels to now be perfect the rest of the season.

The Coastal division is supposed to be better this season, so two ACC losses might be too many to win the division.

For Virginia Tech, it’s hard to overstate how big of a win this is. Even if North Carolina proves not to be a Top 10 team this season, Fuente needed a fast start after his program ended its long bowl streak last fall.

This certainly qualifies as a fast start to the 2021 season for the Hokies. They can contribute a great deal of it to the Lane Stadium crowd.