Fans who prefer to watch low-scoring football games, the equivalent of a pitchers duel on the gridiron, probably aren’t going to like Saturday’s game between Georgia Tech and North Carolina.
If this year’s contest lives up to those of the past few years, it should be a high-scoring, raucous affair, with the outcome determined in the fourth quarter — if not the final drive.
Georgia Tech (5-3, 2-3 ACC) travels to Chapel Hill to meet the No. 18-ranked Tar Heels (6-2, 4-1 ACC) at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday.
“Now we get ready to go on the road and play a top-20 team in North Carolina that is very explosive and talented,” Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson said.
Explosive is an apt description of the past six meetings in the series. The two teams have combined to score 63 or more points in four of those games. Two times the scoreboard has lit up by the two teams — North Carolina’s 48-43 win in 2014 and Georgia Tech’s 68-50 win in 2012, which set a record for the most points scored in an ACC game.
The North Carolina offense isn’t likely to let up this week. The Tar Heels average 437.6 yards per game, and their fast-paced attack is averaging 67 plays, the same as a year ago. Georgia Tech averages 60 plays.
The Georgia Tech offense is trending the right way, too. After some early struggles, the offense appears to be hitting its stride. Last week, quarterback Justin Thomas had a career-best 459 yards in total offense and was the national Walter Camp Player of the Week.
Since getting just 124 total yards against Clemson, the Georgia Tech offense has raised the bar each week — 361 yards against Miami, 371 yards against Pittsburgh, 437 yards against Georgia Southern and 605 yards against Duke.
“We’ve been playing pretty well offensively the past three weeks,” Johnson said. “I don’t look at a lot of stats, but Andy (Demetra, Yellow Jackets’ broadcaster) pointed out on the radio show that we are averaging around 6.5 yards a play, which is pretty good. That’s way up from the start of the season, which tells you that for the last three of four games, it has been closer to eight or nine yards a play. Hopefully we carry that momentum and keep it going into the game.”
The offense will be helped with the return of B-back Dedrick Mills, who missed last week’s game with a concussion suffered in practice. Mills, the team’s most productive running back, cleared the concussion protocol earlier this week. But Marcus Marshall will miss this week’s game because of an undisclosed injury suffered late in the Duke game.
But the Yellow Jackets will be without A-back J.J. Green, who suffered an injury on a kickoff return last week and will not play. That means more responsibility for Clinton Lynch, Qua Searcy, Isiah Willis and Lynn Griffin.
“For us to be successful, we have to run the ball well,” Johnson said. “That’s the bottom line. That is who we are. If you can run the ball successfully, then it opens up the passing game.”
It will be equally important for the Georgia Tech defense to find a way to slow the game down by ushering the Tar Heels off the field. The Yellow Jackets couldn’t do it last week, and Duke had 559 total yards, the most Georgia Tech has allowed all season. The defense did cause three turnovers to offset the wound.
“You have to limit the mistakes and the alignment errors,” Johnson said. “If you are still having them this late in the season, you have to cut back on what you are doing. You can have the best plans in the world, but if the guys on the field cannot get it, then it is not going to be good.”
Duke averaged 7.7 yards per play last week and kept the ball for 28:19, thus breaking in the Georgia Tech playbook. The Yellow Jackets will be helped by the return of linebacker P.J. Davis, who has missed the last two games with a hamstring.
“You just have to make plays,” Johnson said. “The kids on offense made some plays and, defensively, somebody has to bat the ball down or somebody has to get a sack.”