North Carolina (No. 21 AP / No. 20 Coaches) travels to Atlanta in search of their first road conference victory of the season as they take on Georgia Tech on Saturday evening. However, instead of playing on campus at Tech’s Bobby Dodd Stadium, the Tar Heels and Yellow Jackets will travel two miles down the road to square off at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, home of the Atlanta Falcons.
In a neutral site environment, with loads of tickets available and given the large UNC alumni base in Atlanta, the Tar Heels should have infinitely more crowd support than they typically would in a standard road environment.
Given the difficult road environment in Blacksburg to start the season and the helpful home environments the past two weeks against Georgia State and Virginia, any help the Tar Heels can get from the crowd in Atlanta will be a welcome bonus.
The offense appears to be hitting its stride. After being held to 10 points against Virginia Tech, Sam Howell and company have posted 59 points in each of the past two weeks (118 points total in that stretch). All told, Carolina is averaging 42.7 points per game.
WR Josh Downs is having the breakout season that many around the program hoped to see. So good in fact, that he leads all Power Five receivers in receiving yards through three games. Here’s the top 10:
1. Josh Downs (UNC) – 399
2. Drake London (USC) – 375
3. Erik Ezukanma (Texas Tech) - 350
4. Dontayvion Wicks (Virginia) – 346
5. Dontario Drummond (Ole Miss) – 339
6. Dontay Demus, Jr. (Maryland) – 338
7. Wan’Dale Robinson (Kentucky) – 337
8. David Bell (Purdue) – 319
9. Samori Toure (Nebraska) – 306
10. Jonathan Mingo (Ole Miss) – 290
Expanding out to the entirety of FBS, Downs is second, behind only Utah State’s Deven Thompkins. Here’s the top 10 in receiving yards for all of FBS:
1. Deven Thompkins (Utah State) – 454
2. Josh Downs (UNC) – 399
3. Calvin Austin III (Memphis) – 391
4. Drake London (USC) – 375
5. Corey Gammage (Marshall) 353
6. Erik Ezukanma (Texas Tech) - 350
7. Zakhari Franklin (UT-San Antonio) – 346
7. Jaivon Heiligh (Coastal Carolina) – 346
7. Dontayvion Wicks (Virginia) – 346
10. Dontario Drummond (Ole Miss) - 339
10. Trey McBride (Colorado State) – 339
In addition to Howell and Downs, who were expected explosive offensive weapons, running back transfer Ty Chandler had his breakout game against Virginia last week, rushing for 198 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries.
If the Tar Heels can keep that level of offensive balance, the rest of the ACC will be on high alert.
Georgia Tech is something of a mystery. They lost their season opening game to Northern Illinois but in their most recent game gave Clemson a run for their money at Clemson. Which Yellow Jacket team will show up?
We’ll find out Saturday night in Atlanta on the ACC Network.
Let’s look at what to expect on both sides of the ball as the game unfolds.
TAR HEELS ON OFFENSE
It’s no secret what the Tar Heels will attempt to do when they have the ball: let Sam Howell go to work carving up Georgia Tech’s secondary, primarily throwing to Downs. As that opens things up, the offensive line will work to clear massive holes for Chandler and freshman Caleb Hood.
However, the Tar Heels have added a new intentional dimension to the offense: Sam Howell. Okay, so Sam Howell is not a new offensive weapon, but his legs are.
In addition to 300 passing yards in each of the past two games, Howell also has 100-plus rushing yards in those same games.
Exactly two Power Five quarterbacks since at least 2004 (per ESPN’s Bryan Ives) have back-to-back games of 300-plus passing yards and 100-plus rushing yards: Howell and some guy named Lamar Jackson.
Following the Virginia game, head coach Mack Brown said that Howell’s running will be part of the Carolina offense “and that’s facts”.
Currently, Georgia Tech ranks first in the ACC in passing defense, allowing just 124.3 yards per game. That said, keep in mind that the Yellow Jackets have played Northern Illinois, Kennesaw State, and Clemson (who is not the same without Trevor Lawrence under center).
Another wrinkle to keep an eye on is Tech’s defensive scheme. Against Clemson last week the Yellow Jackets came out in a 3-3-5 look, something which they had never done before under Geoff Collins.
TAR HEELS ON DEFENSE
This is the third year for Georgia Tech under Geoff Collins. This will be just the second time Carolina has played the Yellow Jackets under Collins, so a helpful reminder: this is no longer the triple option offense Tech ran under Paul Johnson.
Georgia Tech starting quarterback Jeff Sims injured his arm in the first game of the season Jordan Yates has been at the helm ever since. Tar Heels will know Yates as the nephew of Carolina QB TJ Yates.
Tech has two running backs with 30 or more carries on the season – Jahmyr Gibbs and Jordan Mason. Gibbs has 40 carries for 185 yards while Mason has 30 carries for 127 yards. Neither back has a rushing touchdown yet this season, however Mason has one receiving score. Yates has added 31 rushes but only has 40 rushing yards to show for it.
The Yellow Jacket’s most prolific touchdown scorer this year is receiver Kyric McGowan who has 13 receptions for 205 yards and three scores. Malachi Carter is the only other receiver with double-digit receptions – 12 for 179 yards (53 of which came on one play).
TAR HEELS ON SPECIAL TEAMS
The biggest thing to pay attention to on special teams is an unsung hero: Jonathan Kim. Kim has kicked off 22 times this season. All 22 of those have gone for touchbacks.
That level of consistency allows the defense to rest easy knowing exactly where on the field they will start.
- L 17-10 | @ Virginia Tech
- W 59-17 | vs. Georgia State
- W 59-39 | vs. Virginia
- L 22-21 | vs. Northern Illinois
- W 45-17 | vs. Kennesaw
- L 14-8 | @ Clemson
Here’s everything you need to know about Game 4 of the 2021 UNC football season:
#21/20 North Carolina (2-1,1-1) at Georgia Tech (1-2, 0-1)
Mercedes-Benz Stadium (home of the Atlanta Falcons)
Saturday, September 25, 2021
7:30 p.m. ET
All-time Series: GT leads 30-22-3
Series Streak: UNC won 1
Last Meeting: Saturday, October 5, 2019 | Atlanta, GA | UNC 38, GT 22
Last time UNC won: Saturday, October 5, 2019 | Atlanta, GA | UNC 38, GT 22
Record: 2-1 (1-1 ACC)
Head Coach: Mack Brown (Florida State, '74)
Overall Record: 261-133-1, 33rd year
Record at UNC: 86-57-1, 13th year
Record: 1-2 (0-1 ACC)
Head Coach: Geoff Collins (Western Carolina, ’94)
Overall Record: 22-28, 5th year
Record at Georgia Tech: 7-18, 3rd year
- The upper deck at Mercedes-Benz Stadium is essentially empty
- Tonight's referee is Gary Patterson
- Tar Heels in all-white uniforms and helmets with Carolina blue numbers/letters and trim.
- Georgia Tech is in navy blue pants and tops with gold helmets.
- Tech wins the coin toss and defers. Touchback to start the game and the Heels will have the ball at their own 25.
- Sam Howell keeps picking up first downs with his legs, scrambling for 16 on 3rd down. Carolina can't do anything else and punt.
- Carolina forces a three-and-out on GT's first possession. Punt is tipped and Heels will start at the GT 40.
- UNBELIEVABLE touchdown run for Sam Howell from 23 yards out. Broke several tackles en route. Already 39 rushing yards for Howell.
- Myles Murphy sack forces the second straight three-and-out for GT to start the game.
- GT will have a 3rd & goal from the 24 to start the 2nd quarter.
- GT field goal just sneaks through to make the score 7-3.
- Sam Howell is stripped and GT recovers and returns the ball to the UNC 10. Great play from Tony Grimes in the end zone to break up a touchdown on 3rd down to force a field goal. That's a win for the Carolina defense.
- After an offensive lull for the Heels, Howell connects with Chandler and Green for 12 adn 36 yards respectively.
- Heels connect on a 48-yard field goal but a false start foreces Atkins to re-kick and he misses the 53-yarder.
- Carolina forces a third three-and-out on GT's fifth drive. Don Chapman runs into the punter and it's thankfully flagged for 5 yards rather than 15 and Carolina maintains possession.
- Howell and Josh Downs connect on a third down to move the chains. Let's see if the Tar Heels can put another score on the board in the back half of the 2nd Quarter.
- Heels get a break on a roughing the passer penalty. GT's Griffin delivers a hit to Howell well after the whistles have blown.
- Carolina has a 4th-&-1 near midfield and the offense will stay out. Chandler picks up the first down on the ground.
- Looks like Howell has just fumbled again. Georgia Tech appears to have an easy touchdown, but the ball carrier trips himself near the UNC 10. Fumble stands. GT ball at the UNC 16.
- Can the defense stand firm and force another field goal? No. Georgia Tech touchdown from Jeff Sims, who just entered the game. 13-7 Yellow Jackets.
- Heels will have to punt with 0:30 left before halftime. Carolina's offense has looked much more like the team that played in Blacksburg in week one.
- Tech will kneel out the half. Carolina will have to re-group during halftime.
- Trey Morrison called for targeting early in the 3rd quarter. Review overturned the play, which was a big swing for Carolina. Rather than first down, now 3rd & 12. Heels break up third down play and force GT to punt.
- Ty Chandler 9-yard rush on first play of second half, but stuffed on 2nd and 3rd down. Heels call timeout to discuss going for it on 4th & 1 from their own 41. Heels will indeed go for it. Howell stuffed on a keeper and Carolina will turn it over on downs.
- A strange start on a snap for GT allows QB Sims to get all the way down to the 1 and then sneaks it in on the next play. 20-7 GT.
- Ty Chandler first down run is nullified by a hold, but picks up 14 on 2nd and 16. Morales is stuffed on 3rd down so Carolina will have to punt.
- GT offense is now starting to roll with Sims at the helm. Tar Heel defense will have to regroup and hope the offense can get rolling.
- Tony Grimes down on the field holding his right ankle.
- Things starting to unravel now for the Heels 27-7 GT. 5:39 left in the 3rd. Still time for Carolina to respond but it has to be now.
- Incredible response from Sam Howell and company. Morales has a walk-in touchdown but trips himself up. He atones two plays later with a great catch in the back of the end zone. 27-14 GT. The drive took just 1:49 off the clock. The question is: was that enough time for the defense to rest?
- Heels get to 3rd down, but GT picks it up. On next set of downs, Carolina stops GT on 3rd, bringing up a 4th & 3 at the Carolina 35. Jackets go for it and pick up the first down. TD on very next play, plus a two-point conversion. Demoralizing. 35-14 Yellow Jackets.
- 3rd & 18 and Howell delivers a dime to Emery Simmons for 64 yards down to the GT 11. Heels are in business. TD Josh Downs - wide open in the end zone. Heels go for 2 and pick it up. 35-22 GT.
- Huge break for Carolina on an inadvertant whistle - otherwise GT scores.
- Tech breaks a big run down to the 5. Might have been the dagger. Yellow Jackets settle for a field goal, but it still pushes the lead to 16.
- Heels have 4 minutes to try and score two touchdowns and two two-point conversions.
- Howell stripped from behind. GT recovers and that should do it.
- Yellow Jackets punch in another one. 45-22 GT.
- Tar Heels allow 8 sacks in the game.
FINAL from Atlanta
Georgia Tech 45
North Carolina 22