No. 21 North Carolina, a two-touchdown favorite, got roughed up at Georgia Tech in a 45-22 loss likely to plummet the Tar Heels right out of the top 25 polls.
The Heels (2-2, 1-2 ACC) got off to a quick start thanks to a deflected punt that only went 12 yards. They quickly converted favorable field position into a 7-0 lead on Sam Howell’s highlight reel run.
Howell juked the first would-be tackler Derrik Allen and ran through contact of Juanyeh Thomas. As cornerback Tobias Oliver and safety Wesley Walker converged on him, he spun out of their grasp. He then slid out of the arms of linebacker Ayinde Eley en route to a 23-yard score.
That was the last time Georgia Tech’s defense would look so clumsy on a series. In fact, it was the Tar Heels thrown off balance any their own mistakes.
UNC receiver Khafre Brown dropped a pass in the second quarter that he would have likely scored on and instead they ended up with no points on the drive. Guard Ed Montilius was called for a false start as Grayson Atkins made a 48-yard field goal on fourth down. Backed up another five yards for a 53-yard attempt, Atkins pulled his kick wide left.
Howell had two fumbles in the second quarter than both led to Georgia Tech points. Jordan Domineck stripped Howell on a run and Quez Jackson returned the ball 23 yards to set up a Yellow Jackets’ field goal.
Georgia Tech (2-2, 1-1) took the lead for good after Djimon Brooks forced a second Howell fumble just before his knee hit the ground. Linebacker Demetrius Knight II returned the fumble 37 yards before tripping and falling on his own at the UNC 17.
The Jackets changed quarterbacks to Jeff Sims after Jordan Yates played the first quarter and a half. Sims capitalized on the turnover with an 11-yard scoring run and a 13-7 lead.
Carolina’s first drive of the second half summed up its offensive frustrations in the game. Running back Ty Chandler had a 9-yard run on first down to the UNC 41. The Heels spent three downs trying to get one yard for the first down. Chandler was stopped twice for no gain. On fourth down, Howell was dropped for a two-yard loss. The Jackets, operating on a short field, took possession and scored a touchdown and the Heels were never within one touchdown again.
Georgia Tech had only three sacks in its first three games, but would have that many in the second quarter alone. The Heels allowed eight total and now sit with 17 for the season. UNC entered the game tied for 11th in the ACC in sacks allowed.
Mack Brown put an emphasis on special teams in the offseason, noting that his teams at Texas were good at blocking punts. The Heels are showing improvement in that area too after Giovanni Biggers blocked a punt in the first quarter. It was their second block of the season. The caveat is that they both were more deflections than outright blocks because both punts still went past the line of scrimmage.
Carolina viewed the cornerback position as a strength, but since the season started injuries are starting to take their toll. Dae Dae Collins is out for the season. Storm Duck missed Saturday night’s game with a lower body injury, after playing for the first time in a year against Virginia. When Tony Grimes was injured and came out of the game in the third quarter, it forced Obi Egbuna into action for the remainder of the series. Grimes did return to the game, but the Heels are getting thin at cornerback.
0: The Tar Heels did not manage to get a turnover for the first time this season. They had five through the first three games.
17: Georgia Tech points off three fumbles by UNC quarterback Sam Howell.
63: Carolina’s total yards rushing. The last time they didn’t get 100-yards in a gamer was against Texas A&M in the Orange Bowl, when they finished with 90 yards.