Ryan Sims, the outstanding North Carolina defensive tackle, bemoaned the inability of the defense to stop the Tech offense. "When it is third-and-long, we are a pretty decent defense, you have to stop that. You have to make those plays and we just didn't do that tonight."
Linebacker David Thornton, who seems to play his best games in UNC losses, echoed Sims' comments, "I don't know what their third-down percentage was, but it had to have been pretty good, because on third-downs we just couldn't execute and get off the field, like we have been doing in the past. We would stop on the first two downs, then on third-down they would hit a short pass and be on the field for another series."
The Tar Heels were within seven points with 5:29 left in the fourth quarter, but the defense was unable to stop Georgia Tech and get the ball back for a shot at overtime.
But the offense clearly did not lay the blame on the defense. Darian Durant, getting his first start as a UNC quarterback, said that it was a two-way street, "I was just praying that the defense would give us another shot, unfortunately we couldn't get it. That is the way things go sometimes. The defense needs us to put up points -- early on when we had opportunities to put up points we didn't."
Ryan Sims seemed ready to place the blame on the shoulders of the defense. "The offensive line held up pretty nicely today I think, but up front we did get whipped pretty nicely, " said Sims, "We couldn't stop the run."
Joe Burns had a career night -- 198 yards -- against a UNC team yielding only 111.75 yards per game prior to Thursday night.
David Thornton praised Burns performance, while also being critical of the execution defensively. ‘The offense played hard," said Thornton, "The defense just did not respond as well as we could. He is a tough back to bring down, he is a hard runner, and my hat goes off to him."
Conversely, the Tar Heels turned in their most anemic rushing performance offensively this season – 13 yards rushing on 17 attempts, with 12 of those yards coming from quarterback Darian Durant. The Tar Heel tailbacks, Andre Williams and Jacque Lewis rushed for only one yard on 12 attempts.
The Tar Heel players found that statistic difficult to explain. Darian Durant said, "I guess they just out-manned us, and just got to the ball. With a defense like that, everybody is flying to the ball and it is hard to run against them."
Center Adam Metts was equally at a loss of words, "I think Jeb Terry and Jupiter Wilson actually had a really good game. I don't know exactly where the problem is, but we need to go find it and fix it."
Metts did feel that North Carolina was unable to figure out the stacked Tech defensive front, "When they put a lot of people up in the box, and put a point of emphasis on stopping the run, you got to break them from that, you got to break some plays, you got to get out – move the down linemen off the line."
Darian Durant declined to say that the lack of a running game put any additional pressure on him to complete passes to keep the UNC offense moving, "You live for games when you can put up major numbers in the air," said Durant, "That is what passing is for, when you can't run, you have to do something else. We feel confident – very confident – in our passing game."
The offensive line did accomplish one of its goals, the Tech defense, which lead the ACC in sacks prior to this game with 28, did not record a sack against the Tar Heel offense.
"The offensive line did a good job," said Durant, "We knew coming in they were a blitzing team, and our first objective was to pick up the blitz. The offensive line did a good job of that."
Early in the year, defenses routinely sacked UNC quarterbacks. Maryland downed UNC quarterbacks four times, and Texas had five sacks against the Heels.
Though without the services of quarterback Ronald Curry, the team did not focus on his absence as a reason for the loss. Metts praised the leadership of first-time starter Durant, "Darin did a great job. He was leading us out there. He took control. He was never down, he was never down at all. When we were on the sidelines, he was getting everybody up. He was playing like a senior out there. He is a good football player; he plays with a lot of heart."
Durant connected on 22 of 37 passes (59 percent) for 286 yards and threw three touchdown passes against one interception.
David Thornton recorded his first interception of the season – and his career - picking off Godsey in the third quarter at the Tar Heel 40-yard line, and returning the ball 19 yards to the Tech 41. "It was zone coverage drop on my part," said Thornton, "Coach Tenuta made the call, and I just read the quarterback, and he threw it over my head and I just made the catch."
Bosley Allen, the talented Tar Heel wide receiver had his best game of the season with 9 catches for 114 yards, but would have sat the game out if it would have guaranteed a UNC win.
"I was just trying to play as well as I could to win the game, to help my team to win the game, said Allen, "I had rather me not having any catches or any yards, and us taking a victory. We are so team-oriented right now that we are just focused on that."
The players seem to believe they can focus on the rest of the season and put this game behind them.
Thornton says, "I don't think Coach Bunting and the staff is going to let us get our heads down. We are going to bounce back and practice even harder."
Ryan Sims agrees, "We have been on the deck a lot around here. It is all about just getting back up, ready to finish it up. We have three big games left. We have to win these three games."
Bosley Allen also believes the Tar Heels can finish the season on a positive note. "I am quite sure we are going to win some more games and go to a bowl. The (race for the ACC) was ruined by tonight's performance. But we are going to bounce back; it is not going to be a problem."
Adam Metts says simply, "We are going to be ready to play next week."