CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — It’s always tough for North Carolina to stop Georgia Tech’s intricate triple-option offense.
If the 18th-ranked Tar Heels can’t find a way to do it Saturday, they can pretty much forget about another trip to the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game.
North Carolina (6-2, 4-1, No. 21 CFP) plays host to the Yellow Jackets (5-3, 2-3) knowing they have very little margin for error in their pursuit of a second straight ACC title game berth.
The Tar Heels share the lead in the Coastal Division with No. 23 Virginia Tech, and the Hokies hold the tiebreaker by virtue of their 34-3 victory last month. That means North Carolina probably needs a perfect November — and definitely needs Virginia Tech to lose at least once — to claim a spot in the relocated game in Orlando, Florida.
“You’re right on that edge, so all the focus has to be on our preparation each and every week and worrying about ourselves,” UNC coach Larry Fedora said.
And worrying about Paul Johnson’s option offense.
The Yellow Jackets rank second in the ACC in rushing, averaging 247.6 yards, and are only 11th in total offense at 386 yards per game. But they got things clicking last week against Duke , rolling up 605 yards — their most since 2014 — with Justin Thomas accounting for four touchdowns in a 38-35 victory.
“I think that’s one thing that allows us to get better historically through the year is, we do the same thing over and over,” Johnson said. “The execution is better. You’re not going to trick anybody. That’s a big misnomer.”
They always seem to post big numbers against the Tar Heels — who have the ACC’s worst run defense this season.
In four meetings since Fedora took over before the 2012 season, Georgia Tech has averaged 333¾ yards rushing with 16 touchdowns on the ground — including seven in that wild 68-50 victory over UNC in 2012.
Some other things to know about the Georgia Tech-North Carolina game:
PREP TIME DISADVANTAGE?: UNC had last week off, and that seemingly would give the Tar Heels the advantage of extra prep time for the Tech offense. But in both 2012 and ’13, North Carolina was off before facing Georgia Tech and the Yellow Jackets won both games. UNC’s wins in the past two years have come without the so-called benefit of a bye.
BOWL WATCH: Georgia Tech has won two straight to move one victory shy of a return to bowl eligibility. The Yellow Jackets’ 18-year postseason streak ended last year after they went 3-9.
HOME SWEET HOME: North Carolina won’t leave the state in November. This is just the second home game since late September for the Tar Heels, whose only other game at Kenan Stadium was that loss to Virginia Tech. After next week’s short trip to Duke, they finish up at home against N.C. State and The Citadel.
KEY MOMENT: Fedora says he knew last year’s Tar Heels team was special when it rallied from 21 points down in the first quarter to beat Georgia Tech 38-31 in Atlanta behind three touchdown runs from Marquise Williams. He says it “pretty much propelled us for the rest of the season.”