“We knew coming into this game that this was going to be a tough competition for us,” UNC quarterback Cameron Sexton said. “I mean that’s a good football team we beat today.”
It took a series of UNC “bests” to make that happen.
TURNOVERS MAKE THE DIFFERENCE
In a tight game, which today’s game was despite the final score, turnovers become magnified.
A second-quarter punt bounced off the left leg of Roddy Jones and UNC’s Matt Merletti recovered it on the 30-yard line. That lone turnover led to the Tar Heels’ second score, a two-yard rushing touchdown by Ryan Houston, putting them up 14-0 with 13:57 left in the fourth quarter.
A second Tech fumble came at the 13:05 mark of the fourth quarter. Robert Quinn punched the all out of the hands of Georgia Tech quarterback Jaybo Shaw, and Mark Paschal pounced on the ball. Houston again converted on a three-yard touchdown run, his seventh of the season, to help put the Heels up 21-0.
Trimane Goddard’s interception in the fourth quarter – his sixth of the season – came when the game was out of reach, but punctuated a dominant performance by the Tar Heels in turnover margin.
TOP RUSHING GAME OF THE SEASON
The Tar Heels needed a big game on the ground Saturday, and Shaun Draughn and Ryan Houston delivered.
Draughn had what has become his typical game – 17 carries for 91 yards - but Ryan Houston had his best game of the season, rushing for 74 yards on 13 carries and two touchdowns.
“He just doesn’t get denied,” Cam Sexton said of Houston’s efforts.
Much of UNC’s 186 yards came after halftime, “They told us at halftime that the hole was there, we just had to hit it harder,” Houston said. “Georgia Tech’s a real good team; we knew we couldn’t win 7-0. We just gotta’ keep pouring it on, so we poured it on and we won that game.”
“The buzz words were disciplined, assignment football,” head coach Butch Davis said of preparing to play against Georgia Tech’s triple option.
Overall, you’d have to say they achieved that goal, despite the fact that the Tar Heels gave up an 85-yard rushing play to Jonathon Dwyer in the fourth quarter, the longest rushing play ever given up by UNC.
For the most of the game, however, the Tar Heels did a good job of playing assignment defense and limiting big plays by the Yellow Jackets. Twice in the first half, the UNC defense prevented Georgia Tech from converting a fourth down attempt.
“The two fourth down stops were huge,” Davis said.
In particular, the North Carolina defense did a good job of limiting Dwyer, despite his big run. He came into the game averaging 6.5 yards-per-carry, and the Tar Heels held Dwyer to 3.5-yards-per-carry until his fourth quarter romp.
Even though they gave up over 400 yards, was it the Tar Heels’ best defensive performance of the season?
“I guess you could say that,” defensive end Robert Quinn said. “We flew around out there and had fun.”
It was also the fewest number of points yielded by the Tar Heels this season.
SPECIAL TEAMS COME UP BIG
Perhaps the best Tar Heel weapon of the first half was Terrence Brown, as UNC’s punter booted the ball deep three times, with kicks of 51, 44, and 44 yards while the punt coverage team limited Georgia Tech to an average of 3.0 yards-per-return.
“One of the biggest factors in this game I have to believe was the kicking game,” Davis said.
The fumble recovery, Jay Wooten consistently kicking off to the goal-line, Brown’s punt’s – overall it was North Carolina best day on special teams, despite having it’s premier return man, Brandon Tate, out for the season.
“It was the best special teams effort of the year,” linebacker Mark Paschal concurred.
JOHN SHOOP’S BEST GAME?
This may be entirely subjective, but despite a modest passing effort, UNC offensive coordinator John Shoop may have called his best game of the year.
The play call on fourth-and-short with 4:11 left in the fourth quarter was brilliant. With the Yellow Jackets certain that Ryan Houston would be carrying the mail for UNC, Sexton faked the hand off and executed a perfect play-action pass (okay, so the ball took a little while to get there) to a wide open Hakeem Nicks.
When you can call a play that gets Hakeem Nicks wide open 31 yards down field in the end zone, you’ve called a pretty good game.