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After 2 straight losses, Georgia Tech looking to fix uncharacteristic problems in running game
Georgia Tech's Patrick Skov runs for a first down during the second half of Saturday's game in Durham, N.C. - photo by Rob Brown

ATLANTA — Georgia Tech has a bigger concern than just preparing for North Carolina.

“This week we’ve got to fix ourselves,” coach Paul Johnson said Monday. “… North Carolina will have a good team, but I’m more worried about fixing our problems.”

Poor special teams play hurt in last week’s 34-20 loss at Duke. Poor production from the running game was a bigger surprise. The Yellow Jackets were held to their lowest rushing total in two years.

Injuries have complicated Georgia Tech’s search for new running backs after losing Synjyn Days, Zach Laskey and Charles Perkins from last year’s Orange Bowl team. The Yellow Jackets also lost top receivers DeAndre Smelter and Darren Waller.

The Yellow Jackets (2-2, 0-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) will take a two-game losing streak into Saturday’s home game against North Carolina (3-1, 0-0), which has won three straight.

With no proven skill players around him, quarterback Justin Thomas has pressed to create big plays instead of playing within the spread-option offense.

“He tries to push and when you do that, you have to play within the system,” Johnson said. “There’s nothing wrong with the system. We’ve done it for 35 years. It works.”

Duke’s tough run defense held the Yellow Jackets to 173 yards rushing, about 200 yards below their average. It was their low mark since running for 151 yards in a loss to Mississippi in the 2013 Music City Bowl.

Georgia Tech was expected to lean on Thomas and four returning starters on the offensive line while new starters emerged at running back and wide receiver. Johnson said the experienced linemen have played no better than the freshmen running backs.

“I’m really hard on those guys because they are the guys who have played and it’s ridiculous for them to be screwing it up,” Johnson said.

“They shouldn’t be the problem. They should be the solution.”

The visit from the Tar Heels could come at the perfect time for Georgia Tech’s offense. The teams have played a series of high-scoring games the last five years, combining to average almost 75 points in that stretch.

The Tar Heels have alternated quarterbacks this season. On Monday, Marquise Williams again was listed as the starter.

Mitch Trubisky, who passed for 312 yards and four touchdowns in a relief role in last week’s 41-14 win over Delaware, remains Williams’s backup.

“I don’t want to start some type of controversy because there’s not” one, coach Larry Fedora said.

Williams, a senior, did not play in the second half last week.

Fedora said he switched quarterbacks because he “was looking for a spark offensively” and that as Trubisky “got rolling, he got hot.”

Even though Thomas has pressed to move Georgia Tech’s offense, Johnson emphasized there is no quarterback controversy in Atlanta.

“I don’t want to even suggest remotely that’s the problem, that he’s pressing,” Johnson said. “He can play better. We can coach better. But he’s not the issue. He’s the guy who gives you a chance. He keeps things alive.”

Johnson said freshman running back Mikell Lands-Davis will make his debut. “I said that last week,” Johnson said. “I thought he’d play, but he’s definitely going to play this week.”

NOTES: Johnson said RB Qua Searcy (ankle) will miss “eight weeks or so, so he’s done” and WR Michael Summers (shoulder) will be out “a while.” DE Rod Rook-Chungong (shoulder) is expected to play this week.

LB Beau Hankins, who had three tackles in two games, has given up football following a second concussion. Johnson said the fourth-year player is on track to graduate in May.

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