Paul Johnson's Yellow Jackets have presented a formidable foe for opposing teams thus far, opening up with 2-0 record that included a 38-14 road win over Duke last weekend. The Ramblin' Wreck represented the Coastal Division last season in the ACC Championship Game by winning four of their final five regular season games. This year Georgia Tech faces its Coastal opposition early with four straight conference games following the season opener against Elon. The road test against Duke was met with ease and now the Yellow Jackets return home to Bobby Dodd Stadium to face the Tar Heels, who are looking for their first win in Atlanta since 1997.
An explosive rushing attack has long fueled Johnson's success yet the presence of sophomore quarterback Vad Lee in the pocket has made the scoring potential even more dangerous so far this season. The Ted Roof-led defense has shown glimpses of dominance through the first two games, allowing just 507 total yards and ranking seventh nationally in total defense. Fifteen starters returned from last season's 7-7 squad, including seven on offense.
"We're getting ready for a very difficult conference opener as we play in Atlanta for Georgia Tech. I think their defense is ranked No. 1 in the country right now and I think offensively they're like third in the country so they're a unique team. They're very difficult on both sides of the ball right now coming out of two games."- UNC head coach Larry Fedora
"This week, I think the competition level ratchets up a little bit. North Carolina was picked in the preseason to be one of the top teams in our division. They've got a returning quarterback that is a great player and a good set of skill guys. Their tight ends are as good as anyone's in the country. Defensively they seem to be playing better this year than they were a year ago. They're running around making plays so it'll be a big challenge for us on Saturday." – Johnson
"You've got to get ready to play them like you do every team. You put together a plan defensively, practice it, and then you go out there and do it. We won't change the way we practice or the way we play. You've got to get your system and then try to execute at a high level." – Johnson
Ted Roof's 4-3 Defense vs. UNC's Spread
After Al Groh's departure from the defensive side of the ball last season, questions surrounded the Yellow Jackets moving forward. A pedestrian 43rd-ranked defense and a 7-7 record left room for improvement with plenty of experience returning. Seven seniors return and eight starters in total to churn out early success for new defensive coordinator (and former Duke head coach) Ted Roof. The Yellow Jackets rank first in scoring defense (7.0 ppg) and seventh in total defense (253.5 ypg) through two games.
Georgia Tech was in disarray at times in 2012 while enduring a midseason switch from Groh's 3-4 scheme to the more traditional 4-3 look. Roof's long track record of fielding solid defenses has apparently resolved those issues already.
"I think what [Roof] has done is he's settled them down and they're playing just good solid football," Fedora said. "They're in position and where they're supposed to be. They're not out of position and making major mistakes and things like that. He's got them in position. He's putting them in a position where they can make a play and they're making plays. I think he's doing a really nice job with them."
Impact Player: Vad Lee
Lee was tabbed as a potential star this offseason after assuming the starting job due to the departure of Tevin Washington. The Durham, N.C. native has provided reason to believe the hype, leading the team in net rushing yards (125 yards) and total offense (439 yards). Lee's passing production (314 yards, 6 TD, INT) thus far has meshed well with Georgia Tech's vaunted ground game, which ranks third nationally (356.0 ypg).
Fedora noted that Lee's versatility enables the Georgia Tech offense to pose even more problems than it did a season ago for the Tar Heels when it put up 68 points.
Lee ran for 112 yards and two touchdowns and threw for 169 yards and a touchdown on 6-of-10 passing in last season's matchup, but Johnson dismissed the notion that his quarterback got hot against the Tar Heels.
"I would say that he was fortunate in that he hit a couple of plays," Johnson said. "Last year we had Darren Waller behind them and we threw it where he could catch it. Last week we had Darren behind them and we threw it over his head. On the pass to Robbie [Godhigh last year], Robbie made the play around three guys and brought it down. Vad broke some tackles scrambling. He made some things happen."
After completing just one of his first seven passes against Duke, Lee settled down and hit on 7-of-9 attempts for 101 yards and three TDs over the final 35:34.