BLACKSBURG — North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell picked apart Virginia Tech’s defense in the first quarter on Saturday.
The Tar Heels put up 156 yards of total offense with 99 of those coming in the air including a 47-yard touchdown from Howell to Dazz Newsome less than a minute into the game.
When North Carolina opened the second quarter with the ball, Tech’s defensive front finally started to get some pressure on the freshman quarterback. TyJuan Garbutt and Jarrod Hewitt teamed up for the team’s first quarterback hurry on a first-and-10 with 13:56 to go in the half.
On the next play, Howell threw an incompletion under duress from Norell Pollard. Pollard knocked the quarterback down and the two jawed at each other with the defensive tackle wagging his finger in the quarterback’s face.
Pollard didn’t care that Tech was trailing 10-7 at the time or about Howell’s early success.
“That’s just how I play,” Pollard said after the game. “Since high school that’s how I’ve been playing. That’s why I came to Tech, LPD. It’s just something about that.”
The defensive tackle started for a second straight game for an injured Dashawn Crawford in the 43-41 overtime victory. Pollard brought swagger and energy to the Hokies defensive effort playing the most snaps of his career. The defender had a pair of sacks in the second half and got through the line on a handful of Howell’s other dropbacks.
“We knew it was going to be a dog fight coming in,” Pollard said. “Grit, that’s what we live by, that’s what we go by having grit. Coach Fu said it was going to be a dog fight coming in and that’s what we prepared for every practice and every day. Fall camp we were put in tough situations, so when it pops up in a game we ready.”
Pollard was part of Tech’s 2019 signing class that featured five defensive tackles. The three-star recruit out of Wekiva High School in Florida bristled when he heard people say he would likely redshirt as a freshman and used it as motivation when he arrived in the summer.
After seeing a slimmed down Pollard last winter — he was down to 233 pounds — defensive coordinator Bud Foster admitted he was in the camp that thought Pollard would redshirt. Foster’s opinion changed when Pollard stepped onto campus weighing 260 pounds and started practicing.
“We did our skills and drills and those type of those things, I saw a kid that had a lot of potential,” Foster said.
The possibility of redshirting quickly vanished this season with Pollard playing in the first five games. He came had tackles (three solo) with a sack and a quarterback hurry coming into the game. He had five tackles (three solo) with two sacks and a quarterback hurry in Saturday’s win.
“He’s got great hand violence, as far as getting his hand placement right, very twitchy up front and is a quick learner,” Foster said. “Coming in as a freshman, he’s really exceeded my expectations…He’s hard to handle in there particularly when you get them into a situation when you know they are going to throw. He’s got some great quickness.”
The other quality Pollard brings that Foster likes is his “vocal” and “energetic” presence and that’s something the defender said fans should get used to.
“I just have a lot of confidence in myself and just work hard every day and I came in a lot of people told me I’m going to redshirt and they didn’t know me as a person,” Pollard said. “That fueled the fire. I just came in and worked hard. I don’t think of me as a freshman. That’s what other people think about. I just go out there and think about executing and doing my job.”