Georgia Tech's offense has been something of a terror through the first three games of the season. They average 59.3 points a game, 427.7 yards of rushing, and 247.7 yards through the air. That last number doesn't seem too impressive until you see that it came on only 33 passes – an average of 22.5 yards per pass. How did the offense get so good, and can UNC, who has struggled in the past against the Yellow Jackets, stop it.
First of all, Tech's offense was only bad by comparison. Last season was the first under Paul Johnson where they didn't lead the conference in total offense, but they still topped 400 yards per game. But the turnover margin was the worst it's been under Johnson, with a lot of fumbles in the running game, and the passing much less effective.
This season GT has steadily improved in keeping their hands on the ball, fumbling twice in the opener, once against MTSU, and none last week against Kansas. They've also completed a much higher percentage of their passes, almost all for big yardage and scores. Tevin Washington has had touchdown passes of 82, 77, 77, 73, 71, 67, and 52 yards so far this season, a fact that should strike terror into Carolina fans who have already seen too much scrambling from the Heels' secondary this season. But don't expect the passing game to get more emphasis than it has in years past; Paul Johnson will continue to use it sparingly, where it is more effective.
The heart of Tech's offense is its running game, with its two A-backs and one B-back. This explanation, from Johnson's Navy days, makes it pretty easy to understand. The primary B-back this season has been David Sims, with Charles Perkins backing him up. They're putting up good numbers – Sims is averaging 6.8 yards per carry and would be the leading non-QB rusher if it weren't for a teammate's 95-yard gallup we'll discuss in a minute – but these two aren't the guys making the explosive touchdown runs that make the Sportscenter highlights. Sims's longest carry was only 21 yards. This is important, because in the previous match ups, it's been the B-back that has torn apart the Heels' defense. Remember Jonathan Dwyer? He had 150+ yards on the ground in his two Johnson-coached games against UNC from that same position.
No, it's the A-backs who have had the back-breaking runs this season. Witness Orwin Smith's 95-yard touchdown against Kansas. And this is good news, because traditionally Carolina has done a much better job of restraining the A-backs. They will break out for the occasional first down, keeping drives alive that can come back and hurt the Heels, but for the most part they don't find the end zone and they don't blow the game open. No, UNC has been more often burned by quarterback Josh Nesbitt, a better scrambler than he was a passer, who averaged just under 100 yards per game in his three meetings. Here again there's a bit of good news: his replacement Tevin Washington isn't as accomplished a runner, averaging only 3.3 yards per carry this season, and similar numbers last year. UNC did a good denying other scrambling quarterbacks the run last season (see Tyrod Taylor) and they might be able to handle Washington.
The X-factor here is redshirt freshman Synjyn Days. He's the backup QB, but has run or thrown on 43 plays, compared to Washington's 50. And he can run. Days averages 5.6 yards per carry, and is a much tougher runner. If Washington struggles early, we could see a lot of Days.
So where does this leave Carolina? With a tough road ahead of them. UNC has only truly stopped Tech's offense once, and that was due to a combination of turnover generation and some truly poor kicking from the Yellow Jackets. They seem closer to figuring it out, and have an offense that should be able to keep pace this year, but I'm not confident at all that they can succeed. It will be an interesting day in Atlanta, to say the least.