For a program loaded with the underclassmen, the question now becomes centered around intensity and motivation. With the dangling carrot of postseason play buried somewhere at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh, can head coach Butch Davis and his staff keep their players' spirits up heading into a hostile setting that hasn't allowed a Tar Heel victory since 1997?
"I think certainly a lot of it has to do with pride," Davis said. "I think it has to do with respect. How you try to play, how you try to finish the season. If we had 25 seniors and 25 juniors, it would be a significantly different story. But every time all of these young kids play, all they do is have an opportunity to get better."
Georgia Tech (6-4, 3-4) is one victory shy of posting a winning record for the 12th straight season, year. Despite those numbers, there is unrest in the Rambling Wreck fan base about head coach Chan Gailey's job status. Many observers tend to give defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta credit for the program's recent success, whose defense consistently ranks near the top of the ACC (293 yards per game allowed this season is second in conference play and sixth nationally).
His aggressive, blitzing-style defense has produced 94 tackles for loss and 42 sacks this fall.
"I'm definitely going to have my work cut out for me," senior center Scott Lenahan said. "They move their defense around a lot, and you just have to keep your eyes up and be ready for the different movement that they bring. They do a great job of giving you different looks on the blitzes and things like that. They blitz more than half the game, so that definitely adds to the complexity of getting ready for a team."
The Yellow Jackets have dominated this series over the last decade, winning eight of nine, including last season's 7-0 shutout in Kenan Stadium. But Gailey is not about to let his veteran squad overlook the Tar Heels, especially with archrival Georgia next up on their schedule.
"They're just as strong and physical as they have ever been," Gailey said. "They've got a lot of young players, a lot of very talented players. They're a very young team. They're throwing it more than they're running it. In years past, they've been more of a running team. That's how they're moving the football. They play with a lot of enthusiasm. They've finished a couple (games), and haven't finished a couple. That happens with young players a lot."
For the Tar Heels to return to Chapel Hill with a victory, the defense is going to need to do a better job containing running back Tashard Choice (114.9 ypg leads the ACC) than they did against N.C. State's Jamelle Eugene (159 yards, three touchdowns), and the offense is going to have to establish some semblance of a ground game themselves. It would also be beneficial for offensive coordinator John Shoop's unit to start the game with some positive momentum – the Tar Heels have turned the ball over on their opening series in two of the last three ball games.
"That's not the ideal way to start the game," Davis said. "It's an emotional and psychological letdown for the defense. They've got to go out and play in the red zone. For the offense, it's a bummer. And that's just part of the turnover situation. We've got to do a better job protecting the football and trying to create turnovers."
This contest represents the Tar Heels' last opportunity of the 2007 season to claim victory outside of the state of North Carolina – their last victory occurred in the desert in 2002 against Arizona State.