Inside Carolina Staff Chat: The Uncomfortable Game

Inside Carolina's staff convened for a free-for-all chat in advance of North Carolina's game versus Georgia Tech.

Buck Sanders - Time again for another IC Staff Chat, the Georgia Tech edition. Let me just start out by saying that I’ve got a boatload of negative memories about UNC-Georgia Tech games.

Tommy Ashley - 1990.  Great times in Kenan.  Since then, you can probably count the good ones on one hand.

Dijana Kunovac - Oh do not EVEN get me started ... I think trapped on the sidelines in a torrential downpour in Atlanta for 4+ hours takes the cake here.

Buck Sanders - Says something that a tie score in 1990 is a positive to point to.

Tommy Ashley - Tying the eventual national champion was huge for Mack Brown.

Dijana Kunovac - Torrential. Downpour. 4. Hours.

Buck Sanders - Dijana and her weather issues. Will they ever end?

Greg Barnes - Joe Hamilton was the nemesis during my college years. Aways a tough out, regardless of location.

Buck Sanders - Greg reminds me of bad coaching decisions in this game. Torbush going for it on fourth down, Bunting punting to a GT squad in the second half - a GT squad that scored on every possession. UNC coaches tend to get brain lock during these games.

Greg Barnes - I think that speaks to the relative closeness of this series and how every call is magnified. Same goes for last year with how Paul Johnson managed the clock at the end of the first half.

Buck Sanders - What is it about this game that makes me hate it so? And I am talking about even pre-Johnson. Since he’s been the head coach, it has gone up a few clicks in the hate department, but never have liked this game.

Jason Staples - Tough out, regardless of location, no doubt. But in many respects it's a good thing it's Paul Johnson there and not somebody like Chad Morris (who has been said to covet that job) who could really recruit the state of Georgia.

Greg Barnes - Georgia Tech has been consistently higher in the standings for a longer period of time, which equates to more losses than wins. That’s largely what it comes down to. Tough game for UNC.

Dijana Kunovac - Yep, Fedora's allowed a whopping average of 42.5 points per game in his last 4 against GT...

Tommy Ashley - Doesn't move the needle for me Buck.  Just another ACC game.  Tough matchup every year though.

Buck Sanders - So what about this year’s game? UNC is favored by double-digits, and the stats I’ve looked at make it appear that it should be a win, maybe even an easy win for UNC.

Dijana Kunovac - I don't know if I would use the word easy. This defense still makes me a bit nervous and GT has looked better in their last couple of games...

Greg Barnes - I think the spread’s a bit too high, honestly. 

Mike Ingersoll - Greg, spread is too big. This game is extremely uncomfortable for the guys playing, never know what's going to happen against GT.

Jason Staples - I also agree with Greg that the spread's too high. Georgia Tech can still do the one thing Carolina has had the most trouble stopping, and their ability to put LBs and safeties in a bind is a strength where Carolina has been weak.

Dijana Kunovac - The question (as it seems to be every week) is can the UNC D-line keep up and now you have the oh so fun triple option thrown in there to put them to the test...

Greg Barnes - Clemson’s defense blew up GT’s offense, Miami took advantage of costly turnovers and the Pitt game was a shootout.

Buck Sanders - When I say the stats, UNC leads the ACC in third-down conversions; Georgia Tech is dead last in opponent’s third down conversions, they don’t pressure the QB, Trubisky should have plenty of time, and so on.

Greg Barnes - GT is averaging essentially the same YPP as UNC on offense (6.44), but has struggled on defense in ACC play.

Jason Staples - Yeah, GT still has a quality offense as that YPP number suggests, but the hidden cost of running that offense is that their defense just doesn't get prepared to play quality passing teams. Everybody has trouble preparing for GT's offense because it's different, but GT also has trouble preparing for nearly everyone else's offense too because they can't rep a passing offense in practice. That's why the top programs still run really multiple offenses and defenses—it helps prepare them on both sides for all the variations they'll see as various teams pull out the kitchen sink to try to pull the upset. (Also helps that the blue-bloods can get the personnel to run more variety.)

Buck Sanders - In a different way, it looks like a good match-up for UNC. Different than Virginia.

Tommy Ashley - Can Carolina stop the dive?  Can Carolina's LBs step up?

Buck Sanders - Tommy, against the dive, I think UNC is stronger on the interior than it has been in the last two seasons when UNC won.

Tommy Ashley - Agreed Buck.

Greg Barnes - UNC always plans for about a third less possessions vs. Paul Johnson, so this game more than anything will be shaped by turnovers. If UNC avoids any miscues, GT is going to have a hard time keeping up.

Mike Ingersoll - And to Greg's point again, this is absolutely a possession game. Buck touched on it in the podcast on Wednesday. One of the keys to beating GT since PJ has been there has been to create new possessions either in causing turnovers or scoring in the kicking game, or scoring incredibly fast on offense, both of which are things UNC can do well. 

Greg Barnes - Illuminating to me that Chizik broke down the vast differences in prep approach from last year to this year. More work on cut blocks, different coaching setup on game day, scheme adjustments. He sounds much more confident, and more importantly, his players do as well.

Buck Sanders - Somebody, anybody, and I have a timer on you, name a Georgia Tech defender that scares you.

Dijana Kunovac - Chris Bosh. Oh, are we talking now and who plays football? 

Mike Ingersoll - Hahahaha D, well played. 

Greg Barnes - Hmmm. Patrick Gamble?

Buck Sanders - Greg, was that a question or an answer?

Greg Barnes - Although there’s no one on that defense that scares me. To be fair, only three on UNC’s defense fit that bill.

Dijana Kunovac - Yeah was just about to say the same thing, Greg.

Mike Ingersoll - GT OL who make the all-conference team have always driven me insane, but I haven't seen a Man Mountain Dean on their DL since D. Morgan.

Buck Sanders - Isn’t three more than zero? Though I hate to throw a math pop quiz at you guys.

Mike Ingersoll - I thought 2 years was 120 months last night. Confident as all get-out in it, too. So don't rely on me for any mathematics

Greg Barnes - 3>0, yes.

Mike Ingersoll - What's that thing in the middle Greg? Alligator mouth?

Greg Barnes - Yes, Mike, the 3 is actually eating the 0.

Mike Ingersoll - Looks like he already ate it...mouth is closed. I learn best in pictures.

Buck Sanders - So let’s say, for argument’s sake, that Georgia Tech can’t pressure Trubisky, and he has all day to pick and choose his targets. Can UNC set a record for scores per possession? Again, I am challenging the math skills of this group.

Mike Ingersoll - Buck, yes. I think they'll have a shot. MT with all day is dangerous, and hopefully the OL gained some cohesiveness here in the bye so we can make that dream a reality. No sacks would be a thing of beauty.

Greg Barnes - Didn’t UNC score touchdowns on its first eight possessions vs. JMU? So, no, I don’t see a record this weekend. I do see a shootout, however.

Dijana Kunovac - I will be very interested to see how Mitch finishes out the season. The hardest games are behind him, what kind of show will he put on now?

Buck Sanders - That was where I was going D, I think Trubisky has some 400-yard games ahead of him.

Mike Ingersoll - I think State will be more of a test than we're giving it credit for. But between GT, Dook, and an FCS team, I think he'll put up some video game numbers, assuming his weapons and OL stay healthy from here on out. State is a crap shoot, per usual.

Greg Barnes - I think we have to be careful in assuming this game is destined to be a blowout. GT’s metrics are superior to teams like Georgia and Virginia, for example. GT was missing five or six running backs against UNC last year and still only lost by 7.

Jason Staples - Yeah, they needed an all-time comeback against Pitt, but FSU also needed quite a comeback to require a comeback from UNC in that one, so there's that.

Mike Ingersoll - Again, GT is an uncomfortable game

Buck Sanders - Agree with the cautious piece, Greg, but in terms of the statistical match-up, what is it that gives you the most pause?

Greg Barnes - That GT is averaging 4.7 yards per carry vs ACC comp. UNC has been far more effective against the run in league play, but still rank at the bottom of the league overall.

Mike Ingersoll - And no second half points against Miami.

Greg Barnes - And for all of the talk about turnovers, UNC is 13th in the ACC in turnover margin. Granted, GT is tied for 8th

Buck Sanders - Mike and Greg, I think that is pretty weak sauce. Georgia Tech averaging 4.7 yards per carry is like…off for them.

Greg Barnes - It definitely is off for a Johnson offense, no doubt.

Buck Sanders - For the counter-perspective, what statistical edges does UNC have Greg?

Greg Barnes - Third down success rate, as you previously mentioned. And one big key that will go overlooked is UNC’s cornerbacks, despite playing against a run-oriented offense, will be important to limit exposure on those deep passing plays. Random tidbit, but Johnson noticed Duke’s cornerbacks biting hard on three-step routes in pregame last week and incorporated that into his play sheet. Hit a 50-yard gainer.

Jason Staples - Yeah, those CBs are critical—if you can single cover GaTech's WRs on the edge without giving up big plays, it allows so much more flexibility from the defensive front.

Buck Sanders - I think that unless you assume that UNC comes out and lays an egg, commits a bunch of turnovers, and just plays flat and lifeless, the spread is justified based on the available information. Not saying that UNC isn’t capable of having that type of game (we saw plenty of those until last year), the metrics trend strongly in favor of UNC.

Dijana Kunovac - I don't think he's going THAT far.... I'm with Greg - I think UNC is gonna win but I think going into this game thinking it's gonna be a blowout is a little naive.

Buck Sanders - Who said blowout? I just don’t think the spread is out of whack, based on the available info.

Tommy Ashley - Just as long as Carolina doesn't have a safety bite on dive on first play.....

Greg Barnes - So all of those games we talked about at the beginning of this chat played out according to the metrics?

Buck Sanders -  No, Greg, we both know that the metrics are the path to perdition in predicting a game, I just don’t see how the spread is unjustified.

Greg Barnes - We’re talking about three points here, really, so we’re picking nits. We’ll know more on Saturday afternoon.

Buck Sanders -  Greg, you remind me of the forensic specialist on TV police procedurals, “I’ll know more about the cause of death once I get him on the table."

Greg Barnes - That forensic specialist is always right in that approach. Sagarin’s metrics, by the way, has these teams separated by about five points. Factor in the home field advantage and we’re at 7-8 points. 

Buck Sanders - Don’t get me started on Sagarin. He’s not been batting .1000 this season.

Greg Barnes - So we can’t use those available metrics? What metrics can we use?

Buck Sanders - There are tons of other metrics, as you know.

Dijana Kunovac - My eyes are beginning to glaze over....

Buck Sanders - We could talk about the weather, Dijana.

Greg Barnes - S&P had UNC and GT separated by about 15 spots last week. Not sure if that increased or decreased with GT’s win over Duke. Again, UNC is the clear favorite here. Not arguing that.

Jason Staples - Good metrics do pretty well on the aggregate, but the individual cases are still pretty dangerous because of variance—and I think you can argue even more so with wild card teams like GT.

Buck Sanders - Good stuff all. Okay folks, that’s it for this edition of IC Staff Chat.


The Participants
Tommy Ashley - Co-host of the Inside Carolina podcast and contributor since 1998.
Greg Barnes - Inside Carolina's highly esteemed beat writer since 2007.
Mike Ingersoll - Former UNC offensive lineman ('07-10), current UNC law student and Inside Carolina analyst.
Dijana Kunovac - Video production coordinator at Inside Carolina from 2011-15, now back on part-time basis.
Buck Sanders - Daily football columnist and Inside Carolina's president since 2000.
Jason Staples - Former FSU WR, now QB coach with a PhD from UNC and Inside Carolina's Xs and Os analyst since 2013.


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