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After open date, No. 14 Virginia Tech looks to keep rolling against UNC

October 22, 2017 GMT

BLACKSBURG — Last week, with Virginia Tech on an open date, senior linebacker Andrew Motuapuaka got a pedicure. Redshirt freshman quarterback Josh Jackson went fishing on the New River.

And sophomore defensive tackle Tim Settle watched college football on TV.

“I’m one of the heavier guys on the team,” said the 335-pound Settle. “So I really just laid down and watched TV. That’s what I did. Stayed off my feet.”

Among the games Settle took in from the prone position was Syracuse’s upset of defending national champion Clemson, a team that has already beaten the No. 14 Hokies (5-1, 1-1 ACC) this season. The game “shocked” Settle, although he said he knows first-hand how hard it is to win at Syracuse’s Carrier Dome, having lost there last season.

It also reminded him that teams’ records don’t always tell the full story, a timely tip as Tech prepares to host floundering North Carolina (1-6, 0-4) on Saturday for homecoming at sold-out Lane Stadium.

The Tar Heels, who have dropped four in a row, were in a rebuilding year after the loss of key offensive stars from last season’s team. And then the injuries hit.

North Carolina has lost 16 players to season-ending injuries, including linebacker Andre Smith and wide receiver Austin Proehl. This week the Tar Heels will be without five more players, including safety Donnie Miles and defensive tackle Jalen Dalton.

“You don’t have to like it,” said Carolina coach Larry Fedora, discussing his team’s struggles. “You know, there’s nothing that I like about it. We talk about adversity all the time as a football team, and you know that overcoming adversity is one of the most important things you can do. You’re going to face adversity in every game and in your life and everything. So this is just another form of adversity.”

The Hokies, on the flip side, have been rolling. They’re 15-5 since Justin Fuente took over before last season and have themselves in position to contend in the ACC’s Coastal Division again.

The open date proved beneficial for senior wide receiver Cam Phillips (foot) and tailback Steven Peoples (ankle), both of whom are expected to play against North Carolina. Tech might not have junior wide receiver C.J. Carroll (foot) or running back Deshawn McClease (illness), both of whom it listed as doubtful on its weekly injury report.

“It was very refreshing,” Jackson said. “Everybody, I’m sure, feels a lot better now. We’ve got six conference games, especially Coastal, and we’re going to just try to win every one of them. But right now we’re just focused on North Carolina, so that’s how we’re going to take it.”

It also gave Tech a chance to focus on itself. Despite the record, defensive coordinator Bud Foster said there’s still plenty of work to do, even on defense, where the Hokies are giving up just 13.7 points per game, the second fewest in the ACC.

“We’re not anywhere close, though, in my opinion to where we can be, and the kids see that,” Foster said. “They’re working that way. That’s still exciting that we can continue to grow and develop as a unit.”