The Yellow Jackets (5-1, 2-1 ACC) are favored by one point over the Tar Heels (2-4, 0-2 ACC). Georgia Tech leads the overall series 28-18-3 and has won 14 of the last 16.
Paul Johnson’s squad stumbled in its chance to take a stranglehold of the ACC Coastal Division with its 31-25 loss to Duke last weekend, while UNC turned in an inspired performance in its 50-43 loss at No. 5 Notre Dame.
Most troubling for the Tar Heels are the 43.3 points per game they are allowing on the season, which is 14.6 points more than the ACC’s second-worst scoring defense (N.C. State).
“We need to turn it around,” UNC associate head coach for defense Vic Koenning said this week. “We’ve got to win. It's bad around here. I mean, everybody is on everybody. The mood around here, it's not – I'm not saying that it's nothing that we can't overcome, or this, but I'm saying it's bad in the way that … we need to get a win. We have got to find some positives.”
That’s going to be a difficult task, considering the opponent. Johnson’s multifaceted rushing attack, which features a heavy dose of the triple option, ranks eighth nationally in rushing offense (294.7 ypg).
Georgia Tech soaks up the clock (32:46 TOP ranks 18th nationally) and moves the chains with the nation’s best third-down conversion rate (58.9). UNC counters with the nation’s 117th-ranked third-down conversion defense (48.5).
“We don't necessarily try to keep the other team (off the field),” Johnson said. “We're just trying to score. With the nature of what we do, we're not going at breakneck speed. It's just a different way to play.”
It’s completely different than UNC’s style of play. Head coach Larry Fedora’s HUNH approach relies on quick scores through tempo. The Tar Heels rank 26th in scoring offense (37.2) and 126th in time of possession (24:39).
UNC lost in Atlanta in 2013 despite holding a 20-7 lead due to Georgia Tech chewing up over 22 minutes off the second half clock. The Tar Heels punted three times and turned the ball over in their four possessions after halftime.
It’s a two-way street for UNC. Limit the Yellow Jackets’ scoring opportunities while also capitalizing in its few available possessions. Duke won in part last weekend due to its 3-0 turnover edge.
“We've got to continue to create takeaways on defense,” Fedora said. “We've got to stop the run. This week, I don't know if you can sit there and say you're going to stop the run versus what they do, but we have to be very disciplined with our assignments. We need to tackle very well and get a lot of hats to the ball.”
Offensively, UNC has struggled with efficiency at times. The Tar Heels have failed to gain 10 yards on 14 possessions just in their last two games. UNC ranks 71st nationally in third-down conversions at 40.6 percent.
“You can't screw up,” Fedora said. “You've got to be very, very efficient offensively. You have to move the chains and you have to put the ball in the end zone when you get the opportunity."
Georgia Tech ranks 8th nationally in points per drive (3.0), while UNC ranks 96th (1.7).
The Tar Heels are hoping to avoid their first five-game losing streak since 2006. UNC lost seven straight in John Bunting’s final year as head coach.
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