What a crazy, wild, and unpredictable game we witnessed on Saturday as the Jackets outlasted UNC by a 68-50 score...in a FOOTBALL game. It was the highest scoring ACC conference game in its history, as the schools combined for 118 points. Not bad for a "high school offense"...huh bitches?
Tech QB Vad Lee returned home to the Triangle, where he led Durham's Hillside High to a state championship in 2009. A player who could have worn the Baby Blue instead of the White and Gold, he might prove to torment UNC fans for years to come. Let's take a look at the team's performance in all phases...
There was something different about this offense on Saturday. It wasn't just a 588-yard performance that scored 61 points (doesn't include the return)...it was a train that wasn't going to be stopped. It wasn't just hitting some passing plays...it was showing how devastating this offense can be when the passing threat is as dangerous as the running. It wasn't just blocking well inside and on the edge...it was Tar Heels on the ground on every play. It wasn't accepting the occasional loss because the defense had it covered...it's making positive plays with athleticism where none existed.
Is this all because of Vad Lee? Who knows? It was great seeing 5'7" Robbie Godhigh out leap a man 5" taller than him for a TD. It was great seeing Chris Jackson grab his first career catch as a Yellow Jacket by skying into the air. Several Jackets woke up on Saturday and did something impactful. One thing's for sure...it's pretty easy to recognize a guy who has "it".
Including Tevin Washington's 1st quarter TD run, Tech completely decimated UNC's top-10 rushing defense to the tune of 380 rushing yards (5.7 yards/rush)...then threw for 208 yards on top of that. What's more important, they did it when they had to in the 4th quarter. In uncharacteristic (lately) fashion, CPJ dialed up a deep post to Jeremy Moore after Vad threw a pick-6 earlier in the quarter. At 10:57 left in the 4th quarter, the offensive line took over and helped engineer a 6+ minute drive, a good old-fashioned "Death March", that culminated in a FG and sealed the win.
If I had to pick a player other than Vad Lee for player of the game, it would have to be Robbie Godhigh. Solid perimeter blocking all game long, 5 rushes for 41 yards and 2 TDs, and a magnificent leaping circus catch for a 32-yard TD in the 3rd quarter.
I'm encouraged (that's right!). Not by the entire game, of course....Tech did allow 43 points (the pick 6 doesn't count) and gave up 497 yards on the afternoon. The first half, plus the first play of the 3rd quarter, was abysmal as GT gave up 407 yards on only 44 plays...9.3 yards per play and 4 out of 6 3rd down conversions allowed. CPJ in his halftime interview said that "whoever could put a couple stops in a row on defense was going to win". OK...so you didn't need to be Nostradamus to draw that conclusion with a 29-28 halftime score and 600 yards gained to that point.
However it did prove prescient. After the long TD pass to Giovanni Bernard that answered the kickoff return...something switched on with the Tech defense. For the remaining 29:26 of the second half, the Jackets only allowed 90 yards on 25 offensive plays (3.6 yards per play), only allowed 1 out of 5 3rd down coversions, and came up with an interception (Izaan Cross sniffed out a screen and somehow held on to the ball) deep into UNC territory.
In the second half, I observed several changes in the defensive scheme. First, Tech stopped honoring Bryn Renner's read option and attacked Gio Bernard and their RBs. Second, we brought our corners closer to the LOS and stopped the easy outs that were gouging our defense for big yards in the first half. Lastly...our D-Line got active and blew up their screen game (Cross INT, Adam Gotsis deflection).
Isaiah Johnson (9 tackles, 1 FR) and Quayshawn Nealy (6 tackles, 2 sacks) were my defensive players of the game. We made defensive stops when we had to against a good offensive team at their home...that's progress right there.
From out of nowhere, we get a solid FG kicking and XP performance from......walk-on Chris Tanner? In a game where we couldn't afford to come up empty on possessions...having a kicker being money from inside 40 was great. Speaking of great...Jamal Golden returned his second kickoff for a TD in the span of 3 weeks (I mean it only took 14 years the last time) to open the 2nd half. He's a game-changing athlete on ST who found a crease, set up the would-be tackler with a shoulder fake, and the blocking took care of the rest and he was gone!
The other big ST play came as UNC lined up to punt in their own end. Faking a rugby-style kick, Thomas Hibbard cut it upfield before Brandon Watts stopped him for only a 2-yard gain. This was an awfully bad play call (only an 8 point game at the time) by coach Larry Fedora, and probably spurred on by the complete dominance of Tech's offense. Tech took advantage on the very next play with a 32-yard TD run by Robbie Godhigh.
Punt coverage got Sean Poole back and didn't miss a beat, proving itself to be Tech's most dependable ST unit. The only flaws on an otherwise solid ST performance was allowing UNC's Sean Tapley and Romar Morris to break some kickoffs out to midfield.
It was impossible not to notice the leaps and bounds Tech made in its mental toughness. From locking down UNC even after the long TD to Bernard in the 3rd quarter, to driving down the field after the pick-6 by UNC's Tim Scott and matching with their own TD (to make it 65-50), to getting a litany of players making an impact (Tanner, Chris Jackson, Darren Waller, just to name a few)...Tech displayed that will to win that it couldn't against VPI and Miami. It was a performance that made this Tech fan proud.