Carolina looks to get back on track after yielding 549 yards of total offense in last week's 56-24 loss at Virginia. Yet, since John Bunting took over the reigns in 2001, UNC has allowed more yards on at least six other occasions (the 2004 UNC media guide only lists the top 10), including a school-record 657 yards allowed in the Tar Heels' 38-35 defeat of Arizona State in 2002. Last season they gave up over 600 yards each in losses to N.C. State and Maryland.
This game will mark the 40th meeting between the ACC's two all-time winningest programs, with Tech holding a 20-16-3 series lead. However since the Yellow Jackets joined the league in 1974, the Tar Heels hold a 13-11-1 advantage.
For Carolina, eight-point underdogs, its defense must be able to slow down the league's leading rusher P. J. Daniels, who has 257 yards in his first two games. Likewise, the Tar Heels ground game has also been effective this year, as their three-man led attack is averaging 238 yards per game. Virginia and Wake Forest are the only ACC schools that are running the ball better, although UNC's 5.9 yards per carry is tops in the conference.
With rain in the forecast, the importance of the running game for both teams could be even more emphasized. The Tar Heels are surrendering 209.5 yards rushing per game, while Tech is allowing 114.0.
In last year's match-up in Atlanta, a 41-24 Tech victory and its sixth-straight in the series, Daniels ran for 240 yards. As a team the Tar Heels could muster just 157 yards rushing on 31 carries, despite racking up 328 yards rushing – a career-high 244 by freshman Ronnie McGill – a week earlier against Wake Forest.
But the Tar Heels should find the running a little easier in this year's contest, following the graduations of former Yellow Jackets linebackers' Darryl Smith (a second-round draft pick by the Jacksonville Jaguars) and Keyaron Fox (a third-round pick by the Kansas City Chiefs). During their collegiate careers, Smith and Fox combined for 759 tackles – 88 for loss.
While the Yellow Jackets will certainly try to exploit Carolina's porous run defense, they've also gotten a shot in the arm in their passing game. Six-foot-four, 225-pound true freshman wide receiver Calvin Johnson, who caught three touchdown passes the Tech's incredible 28-24 comeback win at Clemson last week, joins sophomore quarterback Reggie Ball, who set school records for a freshman last year for passing yards (1,996) and total offense (2,380).
The Tar Heels continue to enjoy depth at their receiving positions, as twelve different players – including tight ends – have caught a pass this season. Sophomore Adarius Bowman is coming off his finest outing, with a team-high nine receptions at Virginia after catching just 10 passes all of last year. But remarkably, sophomore Mike Mason has just one catch for two yards.
And again, with the possibility of a soggy field and wet football, turnovers could play a key role in deciding the game's outcome. That could mean more bad news for the Tar Heels and their league-worst -6 turnover margin. Carolina has lost four fumbles and thrown two interceptions with no reciprocations, while Tech even in the category. The Tar Heels have not intercepted a pass in 11 consecutive games and picked off just two all of last season – both by Mahlon Carey at Wisconsin.
Finally, in a season devoid of many positives for the Tar Heels, they are leading the league in third-down efficiency with a 60.9 percent conversion percentage. Carolina is 14 of 23 on third downs, a substantial improvement on last year's 36.8 percent mark (60 of 163).