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North Carolina ready for test against VT

October, 4, 2012
10/04/12
5:00
PM ET
North Carolina did not get a real test last week, not against an Idaho team that is one of the worst teams in the country.

Given the 66-0 result of that game, and its 27-6 win over East Carolina the previous week, how much do we really know about the Tar Heels headed into their big showdown against Virginia Tech on Saturday?

[+] EnlargeGiovani Bernard
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesThe Tar Heels' Giovani Bernard -- a threat to score on the ground, through the air and on special teams -- is healthy again.
"I think we'll know a lot about this football team after this game," coach Larry Fedora said. "Obviously, Virginia Tech is a very good football team. They've always been great on special teams. They're known for their defense and they're going to play hard-nosed football, be a physical team."

Here is what we do know about North Carolina. Running back Gio Bernard is back, and Fedora says his star player is back to 100 percent after a knee injury held him out of two games this season. Despite missing those games, Bernard has seven total touchdowns and is expected to see the field in a wide variety of ways Saturday.

The defense appears to be improved, and its play up front could be a huge advantage for the Tar Heels in this game. The Hokies have struggled all season on the offensive line, whether its been a failure to open consistent holes in the running game or being able to protect quarterback Logan Thomas. Teams have shown if you can pressure Thomas, you will increase your chances of winning.

North Carolina, meanwhile, is right behind Florida State in total sacks so far this season with 14. Defensive tackle Sylvester Williams leads the team and is No. 3 in the ACC in sacks with 4.5.

It is important to note that eight of those sacks came in the past two weeks -- seven against East Carolina. In its only ACC game against Wake Forest, North Carolina only had one. So either the pass rush has definitely come along, or it was helped along because the opponent was not as strong.

Assuming North Carolina can sustain its pass rush, it faces another challenge in actually taking Thomas down. Fedora says the only two players on his defense that will outweigh the 260-pound Thomas are his defensive tackles.

"When you go to get that guy down on a pass-rush or a sack, it's going to take seven or eight guys to get him down," Fedora said. "It's something we understand, our guys are going to have to fly to the football, we're going to have to get there, we're going to have to gang-tackle. That's what's going to have to happen. He presents a unique challenge for any team."

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