In an attempt to stay positive and focus on some of the better moments of last week's game vs UNC, this week we will be starting a new feature to replace the previous "Helmet Sticker" series. This way, you get to decide - who had the best overall game and the best overall play? We'll publish the results Thursday, so make sure you cast your vote soon!
The categories and candidates are as follows:
Player of the Game (Offense)
It was a great day for the Jackets offense, and we saw several players put up very impressive numbers. With the "Offensive Play of the Game" category coming up later for biggest play of the game, right now we will focus on stats and overall performance throughout all four quarters.
Justin Thomas - JT went 8-18 passing for 235 yards and three touchdowns, while adding 15 rush for 57 yards on the ground (36 yards net). Not included in the stats are the multiple blitzes he evaded and plays he extended using his feet. He also took a punishing blow in the pocket late in the game but miraculously held on to the football, even though the hit was from behind. Overall, Justin did a great job distributing the ball and had a pretty good day slinging it as well.
Zach Laskey - The B-Back had another workhorse-like game, churning out 74 yards on 15 carries and adding two touchdowns, one of which was a 14 yard run in the fourth quarter. Laskey went down with a shoulder injury, but later returned to the game on the final drive before taking another hit that appeared to exacerbate the shoulder pain he was already feeling. His status is uncertain right now, but he recently tweeted that he was undergoing x-rays. We should know something soon.
DeAndre Smelter - "DreZilla" had yet another very productive game, showing time and time again that he has the ball skills to play at the next level. He had a beautiful leaping grab in coverage for a 46-yard touchdown, which is up there with his catch against Pittsburgh last year in terms of Megatron-ness. He also had the should-have-been-winning touchdown, a reverse that he took 75 yards to the house.
Tony Zenon - Don't forget Tony, who had a good game out of the backfield. The A-backs were very active all night, combining for 112 yards rushing and 117 yards receiving. Zenon was chief among them, reeling in two grabs for 37 yards and a touchdown while adding four rushes for 36 yards.
Player of the Game (Defense)
Jamal Golden - Jamal had as solid an outing as anyone vs UNC, racking up seven tackles and notching his second interception of the season. His first was two weeks ago, a game-sealing pick in the endzone vs. Miami.
Paul Davis - The sophomore linebacker had a monster game, leading the team with 14 total tackles. He also combined with fellow linebacker Quayshawn Nealy for a key sack on third down.
KeShun Freeman - As a true freshman, Freeman has turned a lot of heads. He only recorded four tackles, but two were for loss and he had several QB hurries as well - one of which forced a punt.
Play of the Game (Offense)
DeAndre Smelter's 75 yard touchdown on the reverse - On 1st and 25 with under four minutes remaining, Paul Johnson took advantage of an aggressive Carolina defense and dialed up the misdirection on the reverse, springing the speedy wide receiver 75 yards untouched for the go-ahead score to give the Jackets a 43-42 edge.
Darren Waller's 55 yard touchdown reception - Trailing 21-17 early in the third quarter, Justin Thomas dropped a pass in over the UNC secondary to Waller, who made an athletic (and slightly awkward-looking) catch and was able to walk in to put the Jackets up 24-21.
DeAndre Smelter's 46 yard "Megatron" catch - Less than a minute in to the 4th quarter, Justin Thomas threw a jump ball right on the sweet spot down the seam to Smelter, who elevated and made an amazing catch in traffic before turning up field for the score to make it 35-31 Tar Heels.
Zach Laskey's 14 yard TD run - With just 8 minutes left in the ball game, the Jackets trailed by 11 on the UNC 14. The give went to Laskey, who showed good burst to get to the second level before bulling his way into the endzone for the touchdown to cut the lead to 42-37.
Play of the Game (Defense)
Jamal Golden's INT - Shortly after the Jackets turned the ball over in Carolina territory, the safety made a great read on UNC QB Marquise Williams and snagged a pick, setting up a 70 yard touchdown drive for Tech.
KeShun Freeman's TFL - Late in the game with just four minutes to play, the freshman made a great play in the backfield, taking down UNC's Williams for a one yard loss and forcing 2nd and long. The Tarheels failed to convert two plays later and punted it away to the Jackets, who scored a few plays later.
Shawn Green's TFL - To quote Joey Weaver himself, "SHAWN GREEN YOU ARE A MAN". The defensive tackle made one of the biggest plays of the night shortly after the Jackets had taken a 43-42 lead. On 2nd and 2, Green got good penetration and was able to take down UNC's Williams in the backfield for a two yard loss to set up 3rd and 4. The Heels converted the first down, but Green gave the Tech D a chance to make a stand.
KeShun Freeman's QB hurry in UNC's first drive - It may seem inconsequential now, but the freshman's pressure forced Marquise Williams to make an inaccurate pass on third down during UNC's opening drive of the game. The Tarheels only punted three times all night.