For the past three years, Georgia Tech has found North Carolina hard to hold.
Three years ago, the Yellow Jackets scored late to take the lead but couldn’t prevent the Tar Heels from winning 48-43 in the waning seconds. Two years ago, the Yellow Jackets had a 21-0 lead and failed to close, losing 38-31. Last year the Yellow Jackets allowed three unanswered touchdowns late to lose 48-20.
“Historically these have been pretty high-scoring games,” Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson said. “It’ll be interesting to see if we can slow them down a little bit this Saturday.”
A Georgia Tech victory would be important, as the Yellow Jackets (2-1) are ready to move into the more challenging portion of their schedule, with Miami (2-0), Wake Forest (4-0) and Clemson (3-0) on the horizon.
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“For the most part, all our games (against North Carolina) have been high scoring,” Johnson said. “I mentioned that to the defensive guys. This is a team we haven’t slowed down much. It’s a challenge on defense and a challenge for the offense to score enough points.”
The Georgia Tech defense has played particularly well the past two weeks. The Yellow Jackets limited Pittsburgh to 37 yards on the ground and now face a banged-up North Carolina team that is loaded with young players.
“The toughest thing right now is trying to get some type of continuity so we can get some execution on offense, and we’re sputtering,” Tar Heels head coach Larry Fedora said.
North Carolina (1-3) has started freshman quarterback Chazz Surratt the past two games after going with graduate assistant Brandon Harris, a transfer from LSU, in the first two games. Surratt, who was also recruited by Georgia Tech, has thrown for 259 yards in each of the past two games and is a threat to run. Surratt was the ACC Rookie of the Week for his effort in a loss to Louisville.
“You get ready for their system, whether they play either quarterback,” Johnson said. “They can both, I think, do what they want to do offensively.”
The Heels feature freshman Michael Carter (190 yards, five touchdowns) and sophomore Jordon Brown (228 yards, two touchdowns) at tailback. Austin Proehl (16 catches) and Jordan Cunningham (12 catches) are the top receivers. The Tar Heels also have a dangerous return man in Anthony Ratliff-Williams, who returned a kickoff for a touchdown against Louisville and had five catches against Duke.
Georgia Tech will need to control the pace of the game, keep the rapid-fire Heels off the field and win the time of possession game. The strategy worked for Duke a week ago, as the Blue Devils kept the ball for 33 minutes and allowed the Heels to convert only 3-of-16 third downs.
Hanging onto the ball for big chunks of time hasn’t been difficult so far. The Yellow Jackets average 393.7 yards rushing, the best in the nation. But this week they’ll be without starting left tackle Jahaziel Lee and backup lineman Brad Morgan, as well as veteran A-back J.J. Green.
Tackle Andrew Marshall is getting closer to a return but will miss his fourth straight game with a knee injury.
Last week, however, it was tough for the Yellow Jackets to hang onto the ball. They lost four fumbles against Pittsburgh, the first time that has happened since 2007 against North Carolina. One of the fumbles was actually kicked out of TaQuon Marshall’s hands, but the others were mistakes.
“We’ve got to do better with our fundamentals and our footwork on some of it,” Johnson said. “Hopefully, that’s an enigma. Saturday was the first time we really struggled fundamentally, and you have to give Pitt credit. They did a nice job punching it out at times.”
Marshall continues to grow into the job as starting quarterback. He has generated 386 yards rushing and has thrown for 280.
“He’s got a quarterback that’s able to run the option efficiently for him, but at the same time he’s got a guy that can hurt you with his arm,” Fedora said. “It makes it a little tougher. You’ve got to become a very self-disciplined team.”
North Carolina at Georgia Tech