The defense wasn't any better but forcing just one turnover and two punts was enough for the offense to put up 48 points and give the Tar Heels their first ACC win of the season. UNC breaks a four game losing streak and a five game skid against the Yellow Jackets.
This game actually unfolded the only way it could for UNC to win with a defense that struggles to get stops on a consistent(or any) basis. It was more or less like a tennis match and whichever team could serve last would win the game. Initially, Georgia Tech got on serve first. UNC punted on the first possession but seemingly turned the tide forcing a fumble off a bad pitch from Yellow Jacket QB Justin Thomas. The Heels returned the favor with Marquise Williams making a poor throw to an open receiver behind the defense that was picked off all while he had an open path to the first down marker. The Yellow Jackets went on to grind out a six minute plus drive to take a 7-0 lead. UNC responded to make it 7-7 through the first quarter.
The Yellow Jackets continued driving in the second quarter and had a 4th and 1 from the five which they would have almost certainly have converted except for a false start. The Yellow Jackets settled for a field goal and that misstep in the trading of points gave UNC the opening it needed. On the next drive, Williams found Ryan Switzer deep for a 68-yard touchdown and a 14-10 lead. UNC followed that score up with one of two stops of the game not caused by a turnover. At this point, the Heels were finding it very easy to get into an offensive rhythm. A mix of Williams runs and passes capped off by Switzer second touchdown of the game on a 15-yard pass play pushed the Tar Heel advantage to 21-10.
Against Georgia Tech, a two possession lead can be a significant except UNC could hold onto it. The Yellow Jackets scored quickly to draw within four and the lead at the half stood at 21-17. It was UNC's first halftime lead since the season opener versus Liberty. Georgia Tech opened the second half with a 55-yard touchdown strike from Thomas to Darren Walker after UNC safety Sam Smiley misplayed the ball and left an open path to the end zone behind him.
Unlike previous games when the offense stalled at times, the Tar Heels moved the ball at will against Georgia Tech. Williams used various sideline passes to move the ball downfield and eventually scored on a run out of a pass play to give the Heels the lead back. UNC managed it's second and last defensive stop of the game(which didn't involve time running out) to put the offense back on the field The result was same this time with heavy doses of Romar Morris running the ball and catching passes in space. Morris scored from three yards out to stake a 35-24 lead.
With the lead back to two scores, UNC had a cushion of sorts and could afford to give up a score providing the Heels responded in kind. UNC was able to do that after Georgia Tech scored to make it 35-31, Williams, under duress from a seven man rush on 4th and 6, tossed a 36-yard pass up to Mack Hollins at the left pylon for a touchdown. The Yellow Jackets held serve on the next possession to make it 42-37. Des Lawrence made a huge hit on Thomas at the goal line to prevent a two point conversion.
Then UNC had its serve broken after Williams was brought down for a one yard loss and Morris dropped a screen pass putting UNC at 3rd and 11. Williams had to check down to Morris on the subsequent play well short of the marker. The resulting punt put the ball in Georgia Tech's hands with 5:24 left and a scant five point advantage. This movie had played out twice before in Kenan Stadium during the past two seasons with Miami driving for the win and San Diego St. coming up just short. The Jackets continued to move the ball at will until a clipping penalty put Georgia Tech at 1st and 25 deep in their own end. Paul Johnson answered calling a reverse out of the option and with the whole Tar Heel defense biting hard to their left, DeAndre Smelter went around his line's left end and 75 yards for a touchdown.
On one hand, the touchdown put UNC down one after another failed two point conversion. On the other hand, UNC had three minutes and found moving the ball against the Yellow Jackets as Georgia Tech did against UNC. The pattern held true with the Heels rolling downfield and consuming most of the clock in the process. A roughing the passer penalty and pass interference call put the Heels at the two yard line which was more than doable for kicker Nick Weiler. Instead of chancing that, Fedora took advantage of having two timeouts to run it from the two yard line with 11 seconds left. T.J. Logan capped off a 75-yard rushing game with the game winning touchdown. UNC's two point conversion initially succeeded with a pass from Williams to offensive linemen John Ferranto but an illegal block negated the score and UNC failed to convert on the next play. Two Georgia Tech pass attempts hit the turf and the Heels came away with its third win of the season.
So the question has been answered. Yes, it's possible for this offense to put up enough points to negate a defense giving up over 611 yards and seven touchdowns. It was by no means pretty on the defensive side of the ball and winning a game in this fashion is beyond maddening. The offense on the other hand has been as advertised during the past two games. Marquise Williams was sensational going 38-47 for 390 yards and just the one interception. He also ran for 73 yards giving him 463 yards of total offense for the game was second in UNC history to the 469 he totaled against Old Dominion in 2013. UNC's 38 pass completions set a new school record eclipsing 33 completions versus NC State in 2010. The 189 yards rushing for UNC was the second highest total this season bested only by 209 against Liberty and didn't miss a beat with injured Elijah Hood. Logan and Morris combined for 116 yards of rushing from the running back position, a missing element of late. WR Ryan Switzer, who had been quiet for six games, exploded for 136 receiving yards and two touchdowns.
The defense continues to struggle and this game was no different than the past UNC has played against Paul Johnson's triple option offense except the offense got it done. Over the past two games the offense has had a different feel to it. For one Mitch Trubisky hasn't played except for a single snap in the first half after Williams was shaken up. The play calling seems to be more on target and a better fit for the personnel and in line with Fedora's system. It also helps Georgia Tech can be a little hapless defensively. Whatever the case, when UNC can get a drive started with a first down, they seem to get into rhythm and start rolling. Providing Williams can avoid making poor decisions and use the right mix of his passing and rushing, the offense should be able to keep the roll going
Now about that defense....