Thursday night primer

In week nine of our Thursday night primer, the National Football Post highlights some of the keys to tonight’s Virginia Tech-North Carolina game, including top players and matchups that NFL scouts will be watching.

Prospects to keep and eye on:

Virginia Tech

Greg Boone: No. 8, TE, 6-3, 283

A thickly built tight end prospect who possesses an intriguing blend of body control and short-area quickness for his size.

Sergio Render: No. 70, OG, 6-3, 313

A battle-tested interior lineman who will again have his hands full with a talented North Carolina defensive line. Render showcases good power in his lower half and has the ability to anchor and create a push at the point of attack in the run game.

Ed Wang: No. 77, OT, 6-5, 309

An underrated left tackle prospect who exhibits the athleticism to reach the corner and cleanly redirect in pass protection.

Jason Worilds: No. 6, DE, 6-2, 252

Not only possesses an explosive first step off the edge, he’s also doing a much better job dropping his pad level on contact and has added more of a physical element to his game.

Stephan Virgil: No. 22, CB, 5-11, 190

One of my favorite corners in the nation. His combination of fluidity, balance and closing speed makes him so tough to separate from on the outside.

Kam Chancellor: No. 17, SS, 6-3, 230

An impressive size/speed athlete who has the ball skills and range to make plays in a center field-type role. However, he struggles to redirect and can be picked on any time he’s asked to match up in man coverage.

Others worth watching:

Tyrod Taylor: No. 5, QB, 6-1, 216
Blake DeChristopher: No. 62, OT, 6-5, 313
Cam Martin: No. 41, OLB, 6-1, 209
Dorian Porch: No. 24, SS, 5-10, 209
Cody Grimm: No. 26, OLB/SS, 5-11, 210

North Carolina

Marvin Austin: No. 9, DT, 6-3, 305

Showcases impressive power in his lower half and is tough to move off the ball. I was a bit disappointed with his play last week and am interested to see how he does one-on-one vs. one of the nation’s top guards in Render.

Cam Thomas: No. 93, DT, 6-3, 328

Does a nice job using his hands to disengage and control blocks at the point of attack in both the run and pass game. However, the key for him is playing with a consistent pad level.

Aleric Mullins: No. 97, DT, 6-3, 296

Showcases a good initial burst off the snap and knows how to penetrate inside, but he has a tendency to get too high vs. the run game and can be easily washed out of plays.

Bruce Carter: No. 54, OLB, 6-3, 225

Plays a lot bigger than his frame would indicate and showcases impressive range and fluidly in the pass game. If I had to put my money on anyone to lead the game in tackles tonight, it would be this guy.

Quan Sturdivant: No. 52, ILB, 6-2, 232

Wasn’t as instinctive as I’d hoped when watching him last week and at times struggles to find the football. But he’s still one of the most athletically gifted middle linebackers in the country.

Deunta Williams: No. 27, FS, 6-2 205

Showcases impressive click-and-close ability for his size and possesses the fluidity to turn and run down the field. Generates a lot of power on contact and is simply one of the best safety prospects in the country.

Others worth watching:

Kyle Jolly: No. 72, OT, 6-6, 312
Kendric Burney: No. 16, CB, 5-9, 182
E.J. Wilson: No. 92, DE, 6-2, 280

Strength vs. Strength

The key to tonight’s game is how the experienced Virginia Tech offensive line handles the talent and depth of the North Carolina defensive line. The Hokies have done a great job up front, not only protecting QB Tyrod Taylor in the pass game but also consistently opening holes for freshman running back Ryan Williams inside. LT Ed Wang and LG Sergio Render complement each other well, as Wang has the ability to reach defenders in space and seal, while Render has the lower body strength to consistently get a push as an in-line run blocker. Pair that with the outright power and toughness of RT Blake DeChristopher on the opposite time and the Hokies have had their way with just about every defensive front four they’ve faced.

However, they’ll be matched up in this one with a unit that’s not only more talented than any defensive line they have faced all year (yes, that includes Alabama), but also deeper. The trio of defensive tackles Marvin Austin, Cam Thomas and Aleric Mullins also complement each other very well, as Austin and Thomas are both very difficult to move off the ball, while Mullins has the ability to consistently knife his way into the backfield and penetrate inside. But what makes this group so tough to handle is its ability to bring pressure of the edge. Defensive ends E.J. Wilson and Robert Quinn both possess the power to collapse the pocket on the outside, but it’s Quinn who does a great job firing off the ball and using his long arms and quickness to get after the QB.

With two big-time units going head to head, the question is: Who has the advantage? I expect the UNC defensive line to create a lot of push and penetration early in the game while they’re still fresh. However, as we saw last week vs. Florida State, the Tar Heels defense tends to wear down in the second half due to the offense’s inability move the chains. And with Virginia Tech’s willingness to run the football and QB Tyrod Taylor’s ability to make plays with his feet, I eventually expect the tide to turn. Look for the Hokies to wear down the North Carolina defensive front four and create some big plays in both the run and pass game in the second half.

Follow me on Twitter: WesBunting

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