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Georgia Tech vs. North Carolina: A Statistical Preview

UNC brings something this year that nobody has seen from them in years: a defense

Georgia Tech v Temple Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

This Saturday, Georgia Tech will play host to Mack Brown’s North Carolina Tar Heels. In just his first season in Chapel Hill, Brown has had a surprising amount of success, including a near-victory over No. 1 Clemson. With true freshman Sam Howell at quarterback, Brown will try to get his offense going the same way his defense is going against Tech this weekend.

Georgia Tech Offense vs. North Carolina Defense

Stats courtesy of Sports Source Analytics. Data Visualization courtesy of Zane Murfitt (Coug Center).

It wasn’t any big secret, but Georgia Tech’s offense hasn’t been good this year. The real story here, though, is the improvement of North Carolina’s defense. Under new defensive coordinator Jay Bateman, the Tar Heels have already improved to a league average-to-above-average defense, and if Tech can’t find an offensive groove, it’s going to be a long afternoon on Saturday.

There is a path to victory here, though: running the dang ball. The Tar Heels are currently giving up about 5.2 yards per carry, which is good for 96th in the country. Tech is just going to need to plug in some holes on the offensive line, with season-ending injuries to Jahaziel Lee and Kenny Cooper and the ineffectiveness of most of the rest of the line.

Last week, Jordan Mason came out during the game, so we got a bigger dose of Jerry Howard, Dontae Smith, and Jamious Griffin. Smith, in particular, caught my eye. He finished the game for seven carries and 35 yards, but showed off a bit more explosion than the rest of Tech’s backs, despite the limited carries. If Mason is out again this week, I expect a larger dose of these three backs.

One thing that UNC’s defense has going in its favor is that it is league average in both stuff rate (22 percent) and havoc rate (20 percent). Georgia Tech’s struggles along the offensive line really show here, with Tech allowing higher rates (24 and 22, respectively) than UNC’s defense is causing.

Georgia Tech Defense vs. North Carolina Offense

Stats courtesy of Sports Source Analytics. Data Visualization courtesy of Zane Murfitt (Coug Center).

You know, it feels like we’re in the Twilight Zone here. I actually like how Tech’s defense matches up with North Carolina’s offense. The Heels’ offense has been at its best when Sam Howell is able to drop back and pass. For a true freshman, Howell has been very impressive, completing 62.5 percent of his passes for 1168 yards, 11 touchdowns and two interceptions through five games.

Tech’s defense has been really good against the pass though, holding opposing teams to just a 31 percent success rate when passing (14th-best in the country). The closest to Tech’s passing defense that UNC has faced is Clemson, which is holding teams to a 28.85 percent success rate. Howell played decently against the Tigers, throwing for 144 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions.

Last week was a bit of an outlier in terms of UNC’s running game. Michael Carter and Javonte Williams combined for 154 yards and a touchdown (5.9 yards per carry, a full yard per carry higher than their season average). I don’t know that Tech’s defense will cause the Heels’ running game to come back down to Earth, but here’s hoping!

One thing that has really plagued UNC’s offense is third-down conversions. The Heels have converted just 23 of their 75 third downs (30.26 percent). The only problem is that Tech’s defense has also been plagued by third downs, allowing 25 of their 59 opposing third downs (41.67 percent).


I actually feel a little bit better about this game than I did before I started looking at the advanced stats for this preview. This game is going to come down to whether or not Georgia Tech can score. To this point in the season, they have not proven they are able to. I mentioned this in the mailbag, and I’ll mention it again. Dave Patenaude’s offenses at Temple started slow before catching on.

In his first season at Temple, the Owls scored 16 or less points in four of their five games before October. From that point on, they scored 24 points or more in all but one game that came against UCF during their National Championship season. It was a bit less noticeable in his second season, but the Owls scored just 17 points in their debut against Villanova. They went on to score 24 or more points in every game the rest of the season.

With the semi-emergence of James Graham last week, I’m hoping that they stick with Graham moving forward to get him consistent reps so they can get him more comfortable in the offense.

How do you see this weekend’s game going?