There were no moral victories tonight as Georgia Tech won it's first ranked game since 2017. The jury is still out on how good or bad UNC may be but areas of concern for Tech are starting to show consistent improvement and it paid dividends tonight.
North Carolina started the game with some open receivers on the first drive, but QB Sam Howell just put too much on the ball early and overshot a couple of receivers including one to Antione Green, who had Tre Swilling beat deep. A quick 3-and-out for Georgia Tech led to a blocked punt after poor blocking failed to pick up a loaded left edge by UNC. Howell would pick on Swilling again working him in single coverage. Howell’s legs would finish the drive as he bulldozed his was 23-yards for a touchdown. It didn’t help that Tech defenders attempted to go for the strip instead of wrapping up. The rest of the quarter saw the defenses get into both teams backfields and come up with some big sacks.
Gibbs would open up of the offense on the last drive of the 1st with a 29-yard run off the left edge that saw some good blocking. Yates took it up the middle for a nice gain and would eventually work Tech into the redzone with the help of defensive pass interference. Tech would stub their foot with a holding call, and UNC would penetrate the line the next few plays to force a Tech field goal.
Domineck ran down Howell on the opening play of the next drive and forced a fumble that Quez Jackson returned to the 10. A stuffed run and two failed passes to Kalani Norris would see an opportunity wasted, leading to just another field goal and bringing the score to a 7-6 UNC lead.
The Yellow Jacket defense would tighten down on the UNC run game, but Howell had time to throw on passing downs. Howell took a sack by JaQuon Griffin but earned the yardage back and then some to get on the Tech side of the field. UNC came close to adding their second touchdown, but the pass was dropped at the goal line. UNC would miss a field goal after a false start erased the first attempt.
Late in the second Tech, would force another turnover by Djimon Brooks ripping the ball from Howell and Demetrius Knight recovering and would have scored except the dreaded turf monster grabbed him at the 17. Sims made his celebrated return and impressed with a remarkable run through the middle for Tech’s first touchdown of the night. Tech would take an unexpected 13-7 lead into the half.
Tech stalled to open the second but also stuffed UNC three straight runs as Mack Brown got gutsy by going for it on fourth in UNC territory. Tobias Oliver cleaned up Howell on a QB keeper to give Tech great field position. Whatever ailed Sims in the NIU game vanished from here, as Tech would score on every possession in the third. The first was all on Sims’s legs as he covered 38 yards on one carry and and then faked a handoff to take it in on the next play.
A quick stop by the Tech defense, and the offense was off to the races. Tech would extend its lead with Sims showing off his arm with long passes to Carter and McGowain before Gibbs plowed through the middle for a four yard touchdown.
UNC would respond in kind with its own quick drive with Sam Howell adding a few deep passes of his own and topping it off with a 7 yard pass to Kamari Morales. The Yellow Jackets kept pace and took the drive into the 4th quarter before Sims dropped a perfect pass to Malachi Carter, who drug a toe down just inbounds with a defender draped over him.
A quick strike from a 63 yard bomb set UNC up to score a few plays later, and a two-point conversion would keep the game within two scores. Tech performed wonderfully with a 7-minute drive after a would be touchdown was blown dead early when Dontae Smith broke free of a few tackles. The drive resulted only in a field goal after reaching the red zone, but it had done its damage to Carolina’s hope of a comeback. A fumble by Howell in the next drive would seal the victory for Tech, and Sims would add a 50 yard touchdown run for good measure.
The early goings were promising for the defense, save a few missed coverages, but the offense just felt shaky. The line struggled to block, but once Sims came back in UNC seemed very hesitant to blitz because of Sims’s dynamic speed and shiftiness. If Sims shows this version of himself for the duration of the season then winning the Coastal looks feasible with no clear cut favorite now.
It’s easy to look back at what could have been with NIU and Clemson, but this momentum going into the Pitt game feels like GT is turning the corner. ACC play is still young, but Georgia Tech controls their destiny from this point forward. Now all they need to do is claim it.