ATLANTA — Georgia Tech’s spread option offense won’t be new to North Carolina.
That won’t make it easy to defend.
"By us seeing it last year, it’s nothing new to us," said North Carolina strong safety Da’Norris Searcy. "We’ve just got to go out there and remember to do our assignment."
The No. 22 Tar Heels, 3-0 for first time in 12 years, will look for their second straight win over the Yellow Jackets today. North Carolina has lost five straight at Georgia Tech since its last win in Atlanta in 1997.
North Carolina coach Butch Davis says he knows last year’s 28-7 win in Chapel Hill didn’t mean his Tar Heels shut down the Yellow Jackets.
Georgia Tech was the ranked team — also at No. 22 — when it rushed for 326 yards but was shut out for the first three quarters by North Carolina last season. The Yellow Jackets were hurt by two lost fumbles, an interception, two missed field goals and two failed fourth-down conversions.
Davis says his Tar Heels gave up a lot of yards, but no big plays, until Jonathan Dwyer’s 85-yard touchdown run with 6 minutes remaining.
"The thing that we did the best was that we were very, very disciplined," Davis said. "The one thing you can’t do against a team like this — and this goes back to the days of the Oklahoma wishbone days and really good option offenses — you can’t void your own personal responsbilities."
Coach Paul Johnson, in his second year at Georgia Tech, has had more time to tweak his offense that last year produced the Atlantic Coast Conference’s top rushing attack.
"They’ve added some things, some misdirection, to get the ball on the perimeter that last year weren’t really truly there for them just because of the added talent they’ve got on their roster," Davis said.
Even with the new tweaks, the first month of the season has been difficult for Georgia Tech (2-1 overall, 1-1 ACC).
The Yellow Jackets lost a 24-0 lead against Clemson before recovering for a 30-27 win on Sept. 10, but they were held to to 95 yards rushing in last week’s 33-17 loss at Miami.
Since taking the big lead against Clemson, Georgia Tech has been outscored 60-23.
North Carolina, which will be playing its ACC opener, held its first three opponents — The Citadel, Connecticut and East Carolina — to no more than 72 yards rushing. The Tar Heels have allowed an average of 198.7 yards overall.
"Defensively they’ve got eye-popping numbers," Johnson said. "Anytime you give up less than 200 yards per game, I don’t care who you’re playing, that’s pretty good."
A key for both teams is Dwyer, the 2008 ACC player of the year. Dwyer ran for a 74-yard touchdown on his first play of the season against Jacksonville State, but that was one of his few highlights through three games.
Dwyer was held to 66 yards rushing on 18 carries against Clemson, and he had only five carries for seven yards against Miami before leaving the game with a shoulder injury.
Dwyer has 10 career games with at least 100 yards rushing, but after rushing for 1,395 yards last season he has no 100-yard games through three games this year. He left the lopsided win over Jacksonville State early.
After returning to practice on Monday, Dwyer is expected to start against North Carolina. He says he feels no pressure to post his first 100-yard game of the season.
"I wouldn’t say I have any pressure," Dwyer said. "Pretty much it’s just a new year and I have to go out and play. It’s just the same situation as last year. I just have to take every game as the next one."
Dwyer had 22 carries for 157 yards and a touchdown against the Tar Heels last year. North Carolina’s run defense against Georgia Tech’s rushing offense is the key matchup of the game.
"They like to run, they don’t like to be in third downs a lot —especially in third and long," Searcy said. "So if we keep them in third and long and force them to pass, it works to our advantage."
Dwyer said the Yellow Jackets already have seen Clemson and Miami making new adjustments against the option attack.
"You see a little difference," Dwyer said. "That’s not a surprise. We can’t let that stop us or have any effect on us. We just have to make big plays."