And don't think I have lessened my respect for what UNC is capable of doing either, because that is not the case. They have a lot of talent but just don't seem to have any direction right now. The coaching staff is on the hot seat like no other staff in the country and this could be a season that snowballs on them if they don't find something positive soon. This is a team that squeaked by cupcake William & Mary (49-38) in week one and was completely embarrassed by a good Virginia team last weekend (24-56). North Carolina hasn't beaten Tech since a 13-16 home loss for GT on a Thursday night in 1997 during UNC's 11-1 season, seven years ago. And this shouldn't be the team that breaks that streak.
But there are things in Georgia Tech's past that make you not feel completely at ease with the upcoming contest as well. Each year it seems there is a team that GT should be able to handle but does not. Last year it was a 17-41 drubbing at Duke after knocking off top-25 ranked Maryland. This year has a similar feel since GT is just off a miracle finish where they beat top-25 ranked Clemson. I'm sure the Duke game is fresh in the minds of our coaches and players and they're preparing mentally to not have a similar letdown like that happen again.
The biggest reason Tech's chances look good for winning on Saturday is the North Carolina defense. I know Virginia has a prolific offense but the Tarheels didn't even come close to slowing them down. Virginia was able to run at will on UNC. Four different backs scored touchdowns for UVA as they rolled up 299 yards and 7 rushing touchdowns. Virginia averaged 6.2 yards per carry. With the returning first team All-ACC tailback P. J. Daniels, along with Chris Woods and Rashaun Grant, Tech should be able to run the ball with authority all day. Virginia did more than just run on UNC though; they were also very efficient in the passing game. Marques Hagans led the way for the Cavs as a team to complete 13 of 16 passes for 250 yards, and average of almost 16 yards per catch. To make matters worse, UNC linebacker Tommy Richardson has been suspended for the Tech game. I suspect the Tarheels will probably try and slow down Daniels as much as possible early on. Lucky for Tech, they finally found a passing game last weekend to help balance the offense. Calvin Johnson, the heralded true freshman, had his coming out party in Death Valley scoring 3 touchdowns on 8 catches for 127 yards. He looked un-guardable at times so UNC will have to find a way to contend with him. Calvin wasn't the only 100 yard gainer against Clemson, Senior Levon Thomas just reached the century mark as well and is finally starting to realize his super potential. And to make matters worse for Carolina, GT gets back Nate Curry for the game, the guy who was supposed to be the best receiver of the group heading into the season. There is no reason GT shouldn't put some points on the board.
North Carolina's offense is what concerns me the most though and is the reason I'll continue to worry about this game. Darian Durant is a good football player who has always played his best games against GT. In three games against Tech, Durant is 62 of 102 passing for six touchdowns and over 800 yards (along with 1 rushing TD). UNC's game against Virginia was all but over at halftime with the score 10-35 but UNC still had racked up a good number of yards. They had gained nearly 200 yards of total offense in that first half, they just didn't have the points to show for it. If they start to have more success punching the ball in, it could be a long and hard-fought battle for the Yellow Jackets. Their running game was just average last weekend. They ran for 135 yards as a group but the average was less than 4 yards per carry. Carolina will also have to make some adjustments to their offensive line. It was announced after the Virginia game that starting senior OL Skip Seagraves will miss the rest of the season with a broken bone in his foot.
On special teams, Carolina will need to improve there as well. They allowed a 100-yard touchdown run on a kickoff by Virginia's Marquis Weeks. But they weren't done there. In the fourth quarter, Alvin Pearman almost took another kick to the house. He ran for 93 yards but was tripped up just before the goal line. Tech has its own problems with the punting unit. Against Clemson, Tech seemed to kick the ball too far when trying to pin the Tiger's inside the 20 and punted it too short when they were backed up. Hopefully Tech will see some more consistency from walk-on punter Ben Arndt this game or we may start to look toward senior Andy Thompson.
If Georgia Tech can get up big early on UNC, I think they will coast through the game and play a lot of player to work on depth. But if UNC is able to keep up in points by having more red zone success, then this game will come down to the fourth quarter. If UNC is able to pull out a victory, then it will be a very big disappointment for GT, as this is a game the Yellow Jacket should win. I see Durant having a pretty good game though and UNC will hang around and make it closer than Tech fans really want to see. But in the end Tech should have enough of a balanced offense to put up more points and salt it away in the fourth quarter.