Containing the Triple Option

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – No. 19 North Carolina returns to action this weekend following its second and final open date of the season, as No. 20 Georgia Tech brings its ACC-leading triple option rushing attack to Kenan Stadium on Saturday in a critical Coastal Division clash.

In what has been a whirlwind ACC season thus far, nine teams own an overall winning record and five teams currently boast a .500 conference mark or better in the Coastal Division. North Carolina defeated one of those programs (Miami), but lost to two others (Virginia Tech and Virginia).

The Tar Heels need help to earn their first appearance in the ACC Championship Game in Tampa the first weekend in December, but they won't need too much, as they are tied in the loss column (2) with everyone else in their division.

"Everybody's kind of in a situation where you control your own destiny," Butch Davis told reporters during his Monday press conference. "If you play well, good things have a chance to happen, and if you don't, they won't."

As the second-year head coach alluded to, talk of a conference championship is irrelevant if North Carolina slips up during its final four-game stretch of conference play, which begins on Saturday against the Yellow Jackets and its old-school triple option rushing attack (242.3 yards per game leads the ACC and ranks 8th nationally).

The triple option utilizes three different backs on any given play, as the fullback serves as the primary choice to attack the interior of the defensive line, while the quarterback and tailback provide the other two options in running parallel to the line of scrimmage.

Georgia Tech quarterback Josh Nesbitt was sidelined last Saturday with a sprained right ankle, but whether it's him or backup Jaybo Shaw that take the field on Saturday, the Yellow Jackets' scheme will continue to challenge North Carolina's defenders.

"You better be disciplined," Davis said of defending the triple option. "Guys have to read their keys and have to know exactly what their responsibilities are, because they will make you pay big time if you're out of position."

North Carolina's open date couldn't have come at a better time, as the Tar Heel scout team took advantage of three practice days last week to work on learning the offense. Wide receivers Anthony Parker-Boyd and Quentin Plair have brought their athleticism to the quarterback position in an attempt to simulate Georgia Tech's offensive scheme.

But Davis indicated that a scout team cannot perfect in less than two weeks what the Yellow Jackets have practiced diligently since spring ball.

"One of the things that you have to caution your own team about is the speed at which we're going to be able to execute it will nowhere near match the speed at which they execute it," Davis said. "You've got to get into the flow and the speed of the game as quickly as possible. You don't want to jump out there and be 14 points behind just trying to figure out how fast [they execute]."

Allowing early scoring drives has been problematic this season for the Tar Heels, allowing their opponents to average 8.4 plays and 50.9 yards per opening possession. North Carolina has faced seven BCS programs this season, and has trailed in the early minutes in six of those contests.

And with Georgia Tech's success on the ground, UNC can ill afford to fall behind by double digits as the Yellow Jackets will work the clock to wear down the Tar Heel defense.

"We'll game plan for that and we have talked about it," junior quarterback Cam Sexton said. "We understand that it's going to be our responsibility to sustain drives. That's been one of our key points this last week, and it will be this week as we're getting ready, that we know we need to convert the third downs and try to keep the momentum going, but we also need to capitalize."

It also helps that North Carolina has improved dramatically in defending the run, as its last three opponents have rushed for 187 yards on a 2.4 yards per carry average. And while an efficient ground game works against North Carolina's strength (leads the nation in interceptions with 17), running the ball typically requires longer drives to put points on the board.

"They may not throw the ball as much, but if you get a key stop and you can keep them off the field, it's just as good as a turnover," senior safety Trimane Goddard said. "It just depends on what kind of field position battle you're playing. Turnovers are good, but the field position battle is just as important against a team like this."

North Carolina has already positioned itself for a postseason bowl game, and with a victory on Saturday, the Tar Heels will move into serious contention for an opportunity to represent the Coastal Division in Tampa on Dec. 6.

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