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November 13, 2010CHAPEL HILL - The one thing North Carolina had been doing well in winning six of its previous seven games was avoiding big mistakes.
The Tar Heels' 26-10 loss to Virginia Tech might qualify as one big mistake, one that eliminated their already shaky chances of emerging victorious in the Coastal Division race.
Carolina (6-4, 3-3 in the ACC) had a season-high six turnovers - double their previous highest total - which doomed them against the No. 16 Hokies (8-2, 6-0).
"When you have opportunities against a good football team, you have to capitalize on them," UNC coach Butch Davis said.
Virginia Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor threw for 249 yards and a pair of touchdowns as the Hokies scored the final 20 points of the game, holding UNC scoreless after the opening minutes of the second quarter.
Several of those Carolina turnovers were instrumental in taking potential points away from the Tar Heels and producing them for the Hokies.
UNC quarterback T.J. Yates threw four interceptions, doubling his total for the season coming into the game.
The first pick, midway through the second quarter, was innocent enough - Yates threw a good 50-50 ball that receiver Erik Highsmith was unable to wrestle away from Tech safety Eddie Whitley.
But the result was that instead of a 17-6 lead, UNC let the Hokies kick a field goal to make the score 10-9 before halftime.
Midway through the third quarter is where the wheels really came off for Carolina.
Two plays after Tech went up 19-10, Yates threw his second pick of the day, deep into Hokies territory.
When UNC forced a punt, Da'Norris Searcy slipped but touched the ball, allowing Virginia Tech to recover at the UNC 29-yard line. Five plays later, Taylor hit Marcus Davis for the pair's second touchdown of the day and a 26-10 lead.
"Things just kind of started piling up on top of each other," Yates said. "Besides turnovers, we didn't do a good job of converting when we had opportunities."
It was an off day for North Carolina's usual offensive stars.
Yates, fresh off the second 400-yard passing performance of his career, was 18 for 33 for 197 yards passing and no touchdowns.
The senior quarterback broke Darian Durant's UNC career record for completions on a pass in the second quarter - but threw that first interception on the very next play.
After UNC scored on its opening drive for the fifth time in its last six games - this one a touchdown run for Anthony Elzy it didn't get in the end zone again the rest of the day.
Receiver Dwight Jones, who had 233 receiving yards the week before at Florida State and 612 in the past four games, nearly got goose-egged by the Hokies defense.
While Yates targeted him down the field a few times - resulting in two of his interceptions - Jones' only catch was a 4-yarder in garbage time.
"It's frustrating," Jones said. "They were keeping the safety over the top. They had a good scheme. They watched a lot of film. They were not gonna let me get a lot of deep balls."
The lone bright spot was Elzy, who rushed for a season-high 82 yards and caught seven passes for a career-high102 yards in place of Johnny White whose season ended with a broken collarbone suffered against FSU.
The coaches mysteriously went away from Elzy - who accounted for 184 of UNC's 314 yards of total offense - in the third quarter, opting instead for Shaun Draughn.
Coincidentally or not, the Tar Heels had just 19 yards of total offense in the third quarter.
"Sometimes the coaches have a feel for the game, and you have to roll with it," Elzy said. "Sometimes it hits, sometimes it doesn't. This was one of the times, I guess, when it didn't hit."
Of course, it was only appropriate that even Elzy fell victim to the same turnover bug that plagued the rest of the Tar Heels.
His was a fumble that rolled out of the end zone for a Virginia Tech touchback with 7 ? minutes remaining in the game, busting Carolina's last good chance for a score.
It was an appropriate way to seal the Tar Heels fate.
"We made way too many mistakes this week and gave away way too many opportunities to Virginia Tech," Elzy said. "That's something to clean up going into next week."