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Dr. Bob says: If Virginia Tech doesn’t get burned deep too much by UNC, Hokies pull upset

NCAA Football: Boston College at Virginia Tech Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

Bob Stoll of Dr. Bob Sports is one of the most seasoned, successful sports handicappers around. He was one of the first to use advanced analytics in sports handicapping after studying statistics and finance at U.C. Berkeley. You can find his historical college football performance here, and you can subscribe to his service here.

His Strong Opinions have a success rate of about 53.7% since 1999. You can find a Strong Opinion for free below. He has agreed to share some of his lengthy, from-every-angle game previews here.

Strong Opinion – Virginia Tech (+1 ½) 35 NORTH CAROLINA 31

North Carolina’s win at Florida State is impressive but the Tarheels also lost to a mediocre Georgia team and needed a comeback to barely beat Pitt. Virginia Tech did lose to the only good team they’ve faced, Tennessee, but the Hokies outgained the Volunteers 425 yards at 5.9 yards per play to 334 yards at 5.1 yppl and only lost that game because of 5 lost fumbles (none for Tennessee). Virginia Tech is a better team than North Carolina.

The Hokies rate at 0.5 yppl better than average offensively with quarterback Jerod Evans in the game (6.5 yppl against teams that would allow 6.0 yppl to an average team) and V Tech is 0.9 yppl better than average defensively (4.3 yppl allowed to teams that would average 5.2 yppl).

Noth Carolina, meanwhile, is 1.5 yppl better than average offensively (7.5 yppl against teams that would allow 6.0 yppl) and 0.4 yppl worse than average defensively (6.3 yppl allowed to teams that would average 5.9 yppl).

The yards per play differentials of these teams are pretty close (+1.4 yppl for Virginia Tech and +1.1 yppl for UNC) but Virginia Tech should run a lot more plays than UNC will. North Carolina’s quick strike offense has led to a play differential of -9.6 plays per game while Virginia Tech is +12.0 in play differential. Those numbers should regress to the mean but the Hokies are still likely to control the ball with more plays while also being more efficient on each play than UNC is projected to be.

East Carolina v Virginia Tech
Jerod Evans
Photo by Michael Shroyer/Getty Images

This game will likely come down to how well the Hokies shut down the passing lanes of North Carolina quarterback Mitch Trubisky, who is completing 76% of his passes so far this season. Virginia Tech has allowed only 41.3% completions and they held ECU quarterback Philip Nelson to 50% completions, which is impressive given that Nelson is also among the nation’s leaders in completion percentage at 70.5% (74.4% in 4 games not against Virginia Tech).

Trubisky won’t have those easy short passes available to him against Virginia Tech’s aggressive press coverage so the key for the Tarheels will be to connect on a few big plays over the top of the coverage. Trubisky is capable of that but those short passes are the Tarheels’ bread and butter and Virginia Tech will get them out of their comfort zone by forcing them to throw over the top more often.

The Hokies held UNC’s great offense to just 30 points last season while limiting the Heels’ pass attack to 7.0 yards per pass play, which was 1.0 yppp less than what an average team would have allowed to the Heels last season. So, Virginia Tech’s defensive scheme worked last year against Marquise Williams and it will be interesting to see if it works again this year against Trubisky.

North Carolina v Florida State
Mitch Trubisky
Photo by Jeff Gammons/Getty Images

My math model likes Virginia Tech here but not quite enough to make this a Best Bet. I’ll consider Virginia Tech a Strong Opinion as an underdog.