Georgia Tech (1-1) at North Carolina (0-1)
Time: Noon/Kenan Stadium, Chapel Hill, N.C.
TV: ABC-16 (in Macon...check your local listings for Raycom/ACC Network)
Last meeting: Georgia Tech won 24-7 in 2009
Georgia Tech: On the overall, the Yellow Jackets’ offense has rolled during the first two games. Last week, in a three-point loss at Kansas, the unit posted more than 400 yards of total offense, getting a 116-yard passing performance out of quarterback Joshua Nesbitt. Don’t expect Nesbitt to throw for 100 yards each game, but do expect the Yellow Jackets to easily surpass the 100-yard rushing plateau as a team. Despite the fact Georgia Tech features a run-first offense, in the opening weeks of the season, presumed feature back B-back Anthony Allen has had limited involvement, rushing just 17 times. He has rushed for 117 yards, however, averaging 6.9 yards per carry. If he can get involved more, and the turnovers are avoided — the Yellow Jackets had two crucial ones last week — then the offense can really click this weekend.
North Carolina: With a bye last week, the Tar Heels bring only one game’s worth of statistics into Saturday’s contest. Against LSU two weeks ago, North Carolina was playing catch up with a mostly second-team unit serving as its starting lineup. Suspensions from an NCAA inquiry limited some of what the Tar Heels could do in the running game, and it showed. They amassed just 24 yards rushing while starter Shaun Draughn was sidelined due to his suspension. He returns this week — while 12 other players remain suspended — and should provide some help for quarterback T.J. Yates. Yates was the star of the opener, passing for 412 yards behind an improved offensive line.
EDGE: Georgia Tech
Georgia Tech: The full installation of the 3-4 has gone a little slower than some fans and those outside the program may have expected, but there are signs that the unit is playing comparatively better. Outside linebacker Steven Sylvester was searching for ballcarriers last week as he recorded nine tackles against Kansas, tying true freshman safety Isaiah Johnson for the team lead. Johnson currently leads all Yellow Jackets in total tackles, while defensive end Izaan Cross leads in solo tackles. With standout players beginning to take shape at each level, expect the defense to continue to improve. Stopping the pass will be key Saturday, as will closing up holes that have been opening in the middle of the field on runs.
North Carolina: Before the season, this was a top-flight, all-around, all-star defense. It would have been very hard to argue with saying it was the best unit in the ACC, if not in the nation. But suspensions have leveled this side of the ball with star defensive tackle Marvin Austin being perhaps the player the Tar Heels miss most. The subtractions of defensive backs Kendric Burney and Dunta Williams might also prove costly. Linebackers Bruce Carter and Quan Sturdivant are still there, however, and should factor heavily against Georgia Tech’s option offense.
EDGE: North Carolina
Georgia Tech: Always a point of contention, Georgia Tech’s special teams were credited by head coach Paul Johnson as the primary reason the Yellow Jackets lost to Kansas. Field position was an issue as poor punts, special teams penalties and missed blocks hurt them. The unit vowed for improvement all week, even devoting much of Tuesday’s practices to tightening up the punt return game and switching around some blocking techniques in it.
North Carolina: The Tar Heels did not force a punt two weeks ago against LSU, so they did not have a chance to show whether their own punt return game has progressed. They did punt themselves, however, allowing an average 32.6 yards per punt and a score off of one. With mostly redshirts and players likely burning redshirts playing on special teams, the unit may be the worst for the Tar Heels collectively.
Georgia Tech: As is always the case after a loss, Paul Johnson this week reiterated his belief that “good teams don’t lose two games in a row.” If the Yellow Jackets are indeed a good team this season, this game will be a good test to Johnson’s logic and it will be a good test to determining if they have what it takes to bounce back from stinging defeat and place it in the backs of their minds the rest of the season. To his credit, Johnson has no real distractions that he’s dealt with this season — particularly none remotely large as those at North Carolina — so he should have an easier time game planning than his counterpart. In terms of that game plan, the North Carolina native comes back home this weekend to face a program that beat him 28-7 in Chapel Hill during his first year at Georgia Tech. That game was highlighted by the Tar Heels’ decision to continue to throw late in the contest while up multiple scores.
North Carolina: While Johnson may have a different sort of revenge on his mind, Butch Davis is seeking retribution for the Tar Heels’ loss in Atlanta last season, as well as an opportunity to prove to the world that, suspensions and all, he has a strong program. A win over the defending ACC champions would be plenty to sooth the tension in Chapel Hill. If the Tar Heels do win, one would have to base much of it on the coaching job of Davis and his staff — which lost an assistant last week who resigned amid the controversy. The former NFL coach likely is experiencing the toughest year of his college career.
EDGE: Georgia Tech
Offense: Georgia Tech’s A-backs vs. North Carolina’s linebackers. Sturdivant and Carter will be playing for the Tar Heels and that could be bad news for the Yellow Jackets’ A-backs. Last week, against a more inferior Kansas linebacker corps, they struggled keying up blocks in the second level. It made it difficult for the option to develop and for runs to be broken past a certain point. Watch for how well the A-backs block.
Defense: Georgia Tech’s secondary vs. T.J. Yates. While the Yellow Jackets say they don’t game plan for particular players, pay attention to how well the safeties and corners are able to neutralize Yates’ passing attack. The signal-caller has a big arm, as his 412-yard performance two weeks ago indicated. He also has good, physical, tall receivers to throw to.