There are some narratives that just seem to be on autopilot: death, taxes, UNC losing to Georgia Tech, especially in Atlanta. For most of the first half, Carolina seemed like they were ready to defy recent history. The Heels were sharp, marching down the field for a touchdown on the first possession and for the most part stuffing Tech's option attack, even knocking quarterback Vad Lee out of the game for a while. Even when Carolina caught a bad break on a controversial goal-line fumble that resulted in a Jacket touchdown, Carolina responded with a touchdown of their own to re-take a 13-point lead.
Then the Carolina team that usually plays against Georgia Tech showed up. Lee returned at QB and Tech gouged the Carolina defense for a late first-half touchdown that had UNC fans squirming knowing the Jackets would get the ball to start the second half. But the Heels held and then Bryn Renner found Ryan Switzer for an 82-yard TD pass that was called back for holding. From that point on, the Tar Heels would only generate 63 more yards of offense and would never really threaten again as Tech ground out huge chunks of yardage and clock and Carolina could only look on helplessly. The driving rain didn't help as the Jackets ruled the ground and UNC had trouble through the air.
So before I start lamenting about one that got away, here is this week's GBU report:
Eric Ebron: The big-play tight end started finally started making big plays. Ebron had 6 catches for 108 yards and a touchdown.
Sean Tapley: Tapley only had two grabs, one for a touchdown, but had 115 return yards for a total of 151 all-purpose yards on the day.
Tommy Hibbard: Carolina's punter continues to be a solid weapon, averaging over 45 yards per kick and putting two inside the 20.
Offensive inefficiency: UNC fell victim to Georgia Tech's ball control, running only 53 plays on offense. Tech also held the ball twice as long as Carolina, 40 minutes to 20 minutes. Time of possession is one of the most overrated stats in football, especially when dealing with a big-play offense like Carolina's. But today the Jackets played keep-away from the Tar Heel offense in the second half, so much so that when Tech got the ball back with over 6 minutes left in the game, you pretty much felt the game was over.
Fumble recoveries: Tech put the ball on the ground four times in the game but Carolina could only come up with one recovery.
Tackling: It's been a while since this had an impact in a game, but poor tacking hurt the Heels and it will be interesting to see the yards after contact count.
Rushing offense: Carolina only managed a paltry 101 yards on the ground. While there was a respectable 4.2 yards per carry, the run was never a consistent part of the offense on a sloppy, wet day where some ground game might have been nice to have.
Penalties: UNC had 8 penalties for 47 yards, but a couple were crucial, Obviously the holding call on freshman Jon Heck negated a touchdown, but an unsportsmanlike call on Norkeithus Otis kept a Tech drive alive after a defensive stop and in the same drive with the called-back TD, Carolina committed two more penalties on consecutive plays.
3rd down defense: Georgia Tech was 9-16 on 3rd down, and was 1-1 on 4th down for a total of 10-17. More than that, Tech ran on 3rd and 4th downs 10 times, converting 8, including 4-of-5 on middle and long distances. For all of UNC's secondary issues, an inability to defense the run was the undoing on Saturday.
2-point conversions: For the second week in a row, UNC botched a 2-point conversion attempt. This was a fun wrinkle to Carolina's offense last season, and kept teams off guard. But now teams know UNC will try it and it is just not effective anymore. UNC needs to go back to it being a wrinkle and not a staple.
Uniforms: OK, I have avoided this because I didn't want to be the "get off my lawn" guy, but having given it three games, I can truly declare UNC's new uniforms hideous. The black numbers, black pants, and black "NC" on the helmet are just too much, and the font is dreadful as well. I am for tweaks but what has been seen so far is just, well, ugly.
ACC openers: Speaking of truly ugly, since Mack Brown left UNC in 1997, the Tar Heels are 2-14 in ACC openers. Let that sink in for a minute. That means 14 times in the last 16 years, Carolina has begun conference play at least 0-1. Just wow.
UNC won't have time to dwell on this game as they must switch gears and prepare for the legislatively-mandated Kobayashi Maru game against East Carolina and their spread offense before turning around to face the offensively-challenged Virginia Tech Hokies (who needed three overtimes to score 29 points and beat Marshall) before facing Miami. The good news for Carolina is that wins over VT and Miami would put them back in the Coastal hunt. But if it comes down to a tie, or UNC misses a division title by a game, it will be hard to look back and see this one as anything other than one that got away.