It’s officially gameday in Atlanta (note: don’t forget your white!) between the Jackets and the North Carolina Tar Heels, marking what could be a pivotal matchup for Georgia Tech in its pursuit of an ACC Coastal crown. While a win would push Tech to a strong 2-0 in conference play for the year, a loss would be a near death sentence for a team that still has Miami, Virginia Tech, and Clemson remaining on the ACC slate.
That said, the Jackets have a good shot in this game. This is not the same Carolina team that we’ve seen flip the script on Paul Johnson recently, winning the past three meetings after Johnson’s initial domination of the series following his hiring at Tech. Let’s take a look at what’s in play for today’s game:
- Farewell, Gene Chizik. The Chizik era was short but fruitful for the Heels, spanning just two seasons but encompassing a complete turnaround in overall defensive efficiency. Since Larry Fedora’s hiring at UNC, the series with Tech has been a great example of neither team knowing what the hell to do to stop the other’s unique offense. We saw the beauty of the 68-50 Tech win in 2012 and the hideousness of the 48-43 Tech loss in 2014, but Chizik really seemed to have his squad on the right track over the past two years. His loss is a big one and will likely be felt in a big way this afternoon.
- Calling all offensive linemen! Though the injury bug hasn’t hit Tech too hard this season (is it still a jinx if I acknowledge it?), the Jackets will still be without three critical contributors on the offensive line: tackles Jahaziel Lee and Andrew Marshall plus guard Brad Morgan. That leaves Tech in an ugly spot as far as depth on the offensive line, with little to no experience to be found behind the starters.
- Severe Roof damage incoming. This is not the same Carolina offense that we’ve dealt with in years past with the likes of Marquise Williams and Mitch Trubisky at the helm, but what Ted Roof’s defenses have done versus Larry Fedora’s offense since his hiring at Tech has been mortifying. For reference: in this most recent stint as defensive coordinator, Roof’s units have given up 1,979 total yards to the Heels — an average of 495 per game. That’s not getting it done, and things will have to change sooner rather than later if Tech is going to pull out a win today.
- Seriously, you won’t recognize the offensive starters for Carolina. Just about everyone who could have possibly left is now gone: quarterback Mitch Trubisky, halfbacks Elijah Hood and TJ Logan, tight end Bug Howard, wide receiver Ryan Switzer, and three starting offensive linemen. Believe it or not, that isn’t an ideal amount of turnover to have from year to year. Tech will need to exploit the inexperience of the UNC offense in order to maintain control of this game.
- Look for Paul to run the ball. I have a challenge for you: look at the starting offensive line for this week, consider whether or not you want them pass blocking for your starting quarterback, realize that you don’t, and then run the ball 85 times. Third-and-35? B-Back up the middle. Fourth-and-3? B-back up the middle. Punt formation? B-back up the middle. The relative strength of your offensive line is currently the interior, with an All-American caliber player in Parker Braun at left guard, a solid Kenny Cooper at center, and a tower at right guard.
All things considered, Tech has a great shot at winning this game. Vegas clearly agrees given that the line currently sits at right around Tech -9.5, just as we saw last week against Pitt in what ended up being a blowout. The odds of making it 2-0 in the ACC are looking solid, but it will all boil down to defense. Just don’t give up 613 yards like last time, please.