Carolina comes into Atlanta to open up ACC play against Georgia Tech. Tech has lost its past two games, each of which were on the road. The Yellow Jackets lost to Notre Dame in week 3 before losing to Duke in their ACC opener last week. Georgia Tech as we all know, runs the triple option, unique among all the teams Carolina will play this season. As such, I've changed this week's preview to more accurately portray the Yellow Jackets.
Option 1: The Dive
On almost all plays this will be Patrick Skov, a senior transfer from Stanford. Skov is averaging 4.38 yards per carry and has 5 touchdowns this year. The dive is not commonly called in GT's triple option but expect it to be used more later in the game if Carolina has zero success in stopping the run or Carolina is selling out to stop runs to the edge. This is used to both keep defenses honest and to grind away games as this play has the lowest potential downside since its rarely stopped for a loss.
Option 2: The Quarterback Keeps
Georgia Tech is quarterbacked by Junior Justin Thomas. Thomas has not had a great year so far throwing or running. Thomas has kept the ball on 48 plays so far this season. On those runs he has only had 158 yards so far this season for an average of 3.3 yards per carry and 3 touchdowns. Thomas was touted before the season as the ideal quarterback for the triple option veer that Paul Johnson runs but this season against Notre Dame and Duke Thomas has had 35 carries for 85 yards (2.43 yards per carry) and a touchdown. Thomas will probably rebound against Carolina but he's on such a run of poor form that Carolina could get another bad performance from Thomas.
Option 3: The Pitch
Georgia Tech's two principle backs they pitch to are Marcus Marshall and Broderick Snoddy. These two have each averaged more than 10 yards per carry this season. The pitch option is the fastest player on Georgia Tech's offense and as such they also will need to spell each other as the game goes on to make sure that they have a good options throughout the game. The pitch is the source of the most explosive plays in the option since when a defense fails to get contain these can routinely go for about 15 yards a carry at the least.
The Rare Times they Throw:
Justin Thomas has been a bad quarterback this year, only completing 41.4% of his passes. When Thomas does complete a pass they have gone to Ricky Jeune who has 7 catches for 131 yards. Thomas' passes are long though. Thomas has 24 completions for 415 yards. Thomas still averages 7.16 yards per attempt so his completions average 17.29 yards. But again, Thomas doesn't complete most of his passes. Carolina will leave the corners on an island against the receivers and will trust them to hold up in the few passes Georgia Tech calls.
Georgia Tech's defense was stout through the first two games. But against Notre Dame and Duke, Georgia Tech allowed Notre Dame to get 457 yards before holding Duke to 279 yards. The problem against Duke was that they both turned the ball over and allowed Duke to average 4.6 yards per play. Notre Dame ate up Georgia Tech all game however, averaging 7.37 yards per play. Georgia Tech's main weakness in each of these games was that the Yellow Jackets allowed those teams to complete 69.1% of their passes. If the Georgia Tech passing defense plays the same way against Carolina, then the Heels should have a good day.
Vaguely Limit the Run:
Carolina has a great history of allowing Georgia Tech to shoot for single game rushing records whenever these teams meet. The Heels defense has looked pretty good when it's needed to this year. For instance Delaware went 2/11 on third down against Carolina even though they averaged 5.7 yards per carry. Carolina has also come up with fourth down stops against Illinois and South Carolina. The defense's motto this year has seemed to be bend but not break. If they can do that against the run in this game then the Heels could beat GT in back to back years.
Attack them with the Pass:
The Yellow Jackets have been bad against the pass this year, allowing a high completion percentage on short passes. Carolina's offense is built around short passes with its emphasis on bubble screens and getting the ball out of the pocket quickly. Carolina will need Marquise Williams to be at his best to win this game and if he doesn't perform well to start the game, then expect Mitch Trubisky to come in. Regardless of who plays quarterback for the Heels, they need to be able to beat the Yellow Jackets through the air.
Make Thomas Beat You:
Justin Thomas has not had a good year against top competition. Thomas has averaged less than 3 yards per carry in the past two games and the Heels should make sure that Thomas is the ball carrier on the ground if they have to pick which other parts of the offense to shut down. Beyond that, if they can get ahead early, then Carolina can force the Yellow Jackets to have to throw to catch up. If Georgia Tech finds itself behind then they do not have the tools for a comeback and Carolina could steal a win.