After two more quarters of offensive stagnation, the Georgia Tech offense finally showed some life on Saturday.
The Yellow Jackets, which had not produced any points in the last six quarters, seemed to find a pulse in the second half. They scored three touchdowns over the final two quarters, which took some of the sting out of the 38-22 loss to North Carolina on a breezy day at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
The points were generated by redshirt freshman quarterback James Graham, who got his first career start and played nearly the entire game behind center. Graham flashed his offensive skills sporadically throughout the game, but never better than in the second half when he engineered three scoring drives.
“We had 220 yards of offense, 22 points in the second half,” Tech head coach Geoff Collins said. “Starting to find a little bit of rhythm and we had some explosive plays and the guys kept battling.”
The 22 points was the second-most scored by the offense, which entered the game ranked 130th in the nation in scoring average and 127th in total offense.
There was positivity surrounding the Georgia Tech quarterback, who got his most significant snaps of the season. Graham completed 11 of 24 passes for 171 yards and two touchdowns. He was sacked twice and threw two interceptions. Graham also ran 13 times for 39 yards.
“There’s still a lot that he’s going to clean up,” Collins said. “This is his first game getting significant time. You could just see him grow and develop, even throughout the game. He’s got a live arm.”
Graham threw a 28-yard touchdown pass to Malachi Carter and a 32-yard touchdown to Ahmarean Brown. He also tossed a two-point conversion pass to Tyler Davis. Jordan Mason scored Georgia Tech’s other touchdown on a 2-yard run.
And while those first two scores cut North Carolina’s lead to nine points, the Georgia Tech defense could never slow down North Carolina freshman quarterback Sam Howell. After the Yellow Jackets trimmed the lead to 22-15, Howell directed another drive to re-establish a two-touchdown advantage.
Howell completed 33 of 51 passes for a personal-best 376 yards and four touchdowns with one interception to account for much of the team’s 587 total yards. It could have been worse; Howell’s receivers dropped at least five catchable balls and he had a few overthrows, too.
“He’s got so much composure,” North Carolina coach Mack Brown said. “Three guys, at least, dropped balls early in the game that would have led to touchdowns and we end up with three points instead of 14. He didn’t get a lot of help from his receivers, but they got better as the game went on.”
The Tar Heels (3-3, 2-1 ACC) showed no letdown after last week’s near-miss loss against No. 1-ranked Clemson. Running back Javonte Williams added 144 yards on 20 carries with one touchdown. Dazz Newsome caught eight passes for 81 yards.
Warner Robins native Tobias Oliver was not healthy enough to play quarterback, although he did appear enough to return two kickoffs, carry three times for 11 yards and catch a pass.
“Let’s not discount that he’s banged up and I don’t want to talk about that too much because he’s out there battling and willing himself to contribute in every way that he possibly can for himself and his teammates,” Collins said.