This was a very up and down game. I thought UNC was going to win after they moved the ball well in their first drive before stalling and then returned a Jerry Howard fumble for a touchdown on Georgia Tech’s second play. Then things started to settle down for Tech. Taquon Marshall had a couple of long runs to set up Tech’s first touchdown and Tech’s defense stepped up with a quick stop and then an interception. Tobias Oliver took over the reigns and led the Jackets to a 45 yard touchdown drive to make it 14-7. One more stop and a shocking 81 yard touchdown pass by Oliver led Tech to a 21-7 lead early in the second quarter.
Then things turned around for the Tar Heels as they made a switch at quarterback from Nathan Elliot to Jace Ruder. All of a sudden North Carolina’s run game started working. They drove all the way down to the Tech 1 yard line before getting stalled at the goal line and hitting a field goal to get their offense going.
With Tobias back on the ball the Yellow Jackets again quickly moved it with help from long runs by Oliver and Nathan Cottrell. But instead of an easy touchdown Tech found itself stalled with a 4th and 1 inside the UNC 10 yard line with less than a minute left in the game. This became one of the key plays of the game as Paul Johnson decided to go for it and Oliver was stuffed. This left the halftime score as 21-10 with Tech receiving the kickoff.
The first drive of the second half was 12 plays, 6 minutes, and 75 yards for a touchdown. From here it looked like GT had total control. They were up 18 and UNC’s offense had only accounted for 3 points in the first half. But, it was not to be. On the next drive Ruder and running back Michael Carter had no issue moving the ball going 85 yards in just 2 and half minutes. This signaled that they were still in the game despite the point deficit.
If Tech kept moving on offense it would not have mattered. It looked like they might keep it going as Qua Searcy had a big run on the first play into UNC territory, but just three plays later Jordan Mason fumbled giving UNC the momentum. Tech’s defense which had started off stout looked to be folding. At this point Ruder had left the game with an arm injury and Elliott was back in. He led the Tar Heels on another long drive that ended up stalled inside the GT 10 and finished with a field goal.
Tech was now up only 8, but still ostensibly had control of the game. Oliver started the drive off well with a smart short pass to Jerry Howard for 18 yards. After a couple of short runs GT found itself with its third 4th and 1 of the game just on the Tar Heels side of the field. Once again Oliver was stuffed and all of us Tech fans started feeling uneasy. The Tar Heels took advantage with a 4 play 50 yard drive featuring a 46 yard run by Carter. The 2 point conversion was good (even with a Tech pass interference) to tie the game. It sure felt like UNC controlled the game.
But, Tech started driving again. Jerry Howard had a huge 52 yard run before getting chased down. It looked like Tech may hang on. Instead, Oliver fumbled the ball and UNC recovered. This was Tech’s third fumble and all had huge implications on the game. The game was now tied 28-28, but the Tar Heels had the ball and all of the momentum. After a short drive UNC faced a 3rd and 10. Nathan Elliott had a man open, but was too slow getting the ball there and Juanyeh Thomas jumped the angle and made a fantastic interception.
Tech had the ball with 8 minutes in UNC territory. They had moved the ball well all day, but trouble on fourth down and ball security had hampered them. Early in the drive they had a series of short runs Tech once again found itself at 4th and 1 on the UNC 20. Instead of attempting the 37 yard field goal for the lead, they went for it again. This time they rocket tossed it to Lynch who got the first down. A few plays later they were in to take the 35-28 lead with 3 minutes left.
Then UNC once again helped out GT. On their first play Nathan Elliott threw an interception to Anree Saint-Amour who read his eyes perfectly. Tech had the advantage, but I was still holding my breath. Tech took their time getting 1 first down before playing it very safe. UNC was forced to burn all of their timeouts as Tech got stopped at the 8 yard line. Wesley Wells hit the field goal to seal the game for Tech. UNC got the ball back, but didn’t have enough time to make up 2 scores.
First of all this was an ugly game in many facets. Both teams had really bad turnovers at the wrong times. Both team’s doctors were hard at work as all sorts of players went down with injuries. It seemed like anybody playing on Tech’s defensive line was doomed to go down. The coverage by the ACC network was also atrocious. The announcing was bad (they somehow mixed up Anree Saint-Amour and Brant Mitchell????) and the camerawork and graphics were worse. There were several penalties that nobody seemed to see and the downs and distance were routinely incorrect.
Most Tech fans were itching for Tobias Oliver to start, but Taquon Marshall was the first QB out there. Honestly, he did not look healthy even though CPJ insisted he was. He had some long runs, but his acceleration didn’t seem to be there and he got up slow on every play. Oliver came in and did a great job of moving the ball. He didn’t have the room to run that he did against VT, but he showed some abilities we haven’t seen previously. He threw twice, both times successfully. His first throw wasn’t great, but it was so unexpected that Searcy had time to turn around, nearly stop, catch the ball, then turn around again and accelerate away from the defense. Oliver also made several good reads that ended with him pitching the ball. There was one dangerous pitch that ended up working out quite well and some of his pitches were a little iffy, but overall a good showing from him.
Defensively things were not great. The defensive line actually looked fairly decent. Anree Saint-Amour had a big day and Kyle Cerge-Henderson and Desmond Branch made some plays as well. They did seem to wear down in the second half, but not too bad. The linebacking corps had their issues. Early on they made some big plays, but after the first few drives UNC started running with few issues and a lot of that was on the linebacking group. The secondary also did not have the best day. They let Anthony Ratliff-Williams make several big plays and were once again caught giving the Tar Heels way too much cushion on 3rd down letting their QBs make easy throws to pick it up. This group did enough, but still needs to play a lot better.
A lot will be made of CPJ’s aggressive decision making on 4th downs. He went for it four times on fourth and short. Tech went 2-4 on these, but he missed probably the two most controversial. I actually liked the call to go for it right before half, but Paul Johnson actually said it was a mistake at his halftime interview. I liked the aggressiveness.
This game may not have been the clear win it could have and maybe should have been, but Tech moves to 5-4 (3-3 in the ACC). They are one game away from a bowl with three games remaining. I will be in town for the Miami game next week so maybe we can get a non-noon game? Please?