Georgia Tech vs. North Carolina
When: 3:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Bobby Dodd Stadium, Atlanta
On TV: ESPNU
Georgia Tech will try to recover from two straight losses and regain offensive momentum on Saturday when it plays North Carolina, which will try to show that recent signs of defensive improvement are no mirage.
The Yellow Jackets (2-2, 0-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) fell out of the Top 25 with losses to Notre Dame and Duke.
Georgia Tech was hurt by special teams breakdowns and an uncharacteristic hiccup in its running game in last week’s 34-20 loss at Duke.
The challenge for the offense is to return to form without injured running backs Broderick Snoddy, the team’s leading rusher, and Qua Searcy. Snoddy has a hand injury and coach Paul Johnson said this week Searcy will miss “eight weeks or so” with an ankle injury. Meanwhile, wide receiver Michael Summers is out with a shoulder injury.
Johnson said the injuries are a factor but are no excuse.
“Nobody cares,” Johnson said. “Next guy up, and you’ve got to play him. We’ve got guys that are capable. We’ve just got to figure it out.”
The Tar Heels (3-1, 0-0 ACC) gave up only 14 points in each of their last two wins over Illinois and Delaware. Despite those signs of defensive improvement, North Carolina ranks last in the ACC in rushing defense with its average of 229 yards rushing allowed.
North Carolina turned to former Auburn coach Gene Chizik to rebuild its defense. Coach Larry Fedora said he’ll learn more about his defense this week.
“I think our defense has been solid in actually all four weeks of the season,” Fedora said. “They’ve been very solid, very consistent. … Obviously, the team we’ll play this week will really stress them, and we’ll find out a little bit more about us.”
Here are some things to know about Saturday’s North Carolina-Georgia Tech game:
STAY WITHIN THE SYSTEM: Johnson said his players, including quarterback Justin Thomas, have to play within the spread-option scheme and avoid trying to do too much. Thomas said he has to rely on his young running backs and his veteran offensive line.
“We’re down but at the same time the best way to get off the down side is to win,” Thomas said. “We’ve still got a long season ahead of us and our expectations are still there.”
DEFENSIVE IMPROVEMENT: UNC’s defense has made some clear improvements through the first four games, namely in playing physically and having defensive backs in better position to make tackles and pass breakups. Stopping the triple-option is a different challenge.
The Tar Heels have worked each week since training camp on stopping Georgia Tech’s offense. “They’ve got answers for everything that you do,” Chizik said.
QUARTERBACK ROTATION? UNC pulled starter Marquise Williams during the win against Delaware for backup Mitch Trubisky, with head coach Larry Fedora saying he wasn’t thrilled with some of Williams’ decisions.
That came after Williams had a disastrous outing in the opening loss against South Carolina, but Fedora reiterated this week that Williams is his starter.
Still, if Williams struggles, will UNC go to Trubisky quicker than before?
RUNNING ON FUMES: The Yellow Jackets were held to 173 yards rushing by Duke. That’s good production for more offenses but it was about 200 yards below Georgia Tech’s average.
It was the Yellow Jackets’ low total since they ran for 151 yards in a loss to Mississippi in the 2013 Music City Bowl. Johnson said he’s looking for skill position players with big-play potential, but he said Duke’s strong defense deserved credit.
NO DEFENSE: There has been little defense from either team in recent games in the series. Georgia Tech won 68-50 in 2012 in the highest scoring game in ACC history. North Carolina won last year’s game 48-43 but hasn’t won in Atlanta since 1997.