Still basking in the afterglow of last week’s shootout between Heisman Trophy candidates Deshaun Watson of Clemson and Lamar Jackson of Louisville, the ACC offers another delicious quarterback matchup this weekend when the Virginia Tech Hokies visit the North Carolina Tar Heels.
Mitch Trubisky has UNC 4-1 and unbeaten in ACC play, while Jerod Evans has Virginia Tech to a 3-1 start with the Hokies 1-0 in the conference.
Neither player has the hype or flash to match their counterparts at Louisville and Clemson, but each quarterback has quietly been among the best in a league quite deep at the position. They each are a big reason why Saturday’s contest in Chapel Hill could go a long way toward determining the Coastal Division champion.
Evans and Trubisky may not have as many highlight-reel plays as some, but they have been the ACC’s most efficient passers. Evans leads the conference in quarterback efficiency rating at 185.3. Trubisky is second at 182.6. Each ranks in the top four in the ACC in yards per attempt and top three in completion percentage. They have just one interception between them.
Trubisky’s comfort running the Tar Heels’ system creates multiple concerns for Virginia Tech as they look for a way to slow down the UNC offense.
“They’ve done a great job with their quarterback,” first-year Tech coach Justin Fuente said.
“It’s almost like you’re shocked if he throws an incompletion. He’s just been incredibly efficient. They’ve got really, really good wideouts, and then they can also run the football. I know they put up really big numbers throwing the ball, but they certainly have a viable threat there running the football, so if you get a little too carried away trying to take care of the passing game, next thing you know they’ve got a tailback running down the middle of the field.”
If Evans is on top of his game he can cause problems for the Tar Heels as well. For the Hokies that doesn’t necessarily mean making the big play, but avoiding calamitous mistakes.
“Jerod is a great athlete, and the thing he’s done a good job of is taking care of the football, and hopefully that will continue,” Fuente said. “I mean, he’s pulled the ball down a couple times when things weren’t just right and got a couple yards or thrown the ball away. Those are good decisions. I think he’s continuing to get better on a weekly basis, but also each week provides new challenges, and adapting to those challenges is part of being a good quarterback.”
Taking care of the football has been a key to the success of both teams. It will surely be a factor with wet and windy weather in the forecast.
“We asked (Trubisky) at the beginning of the year to take care of the football, and that’s what he’s done,” UNC coach Larry Fedora said. “As long as he does that, just keeps moving the chains, he’s giving us a chance to win football games. He’s done a tremendous job of that.”
Fortunately for the Hokies, they can say the same thing about their own QB, which points to Saturday providing a competitive game in Chapel Hill against the Tar Heels.
Shane Mettlen is a veteran college sports writer. He’s on Twitter @ShaneMettlen.