Dead. No other way to describe it. UNC was dead in the water late in the second quarter against Georgia Tech. The Tar Heels had given up three soul-crushing drives of 10, 14, and 13 plays and had offered little resistance in digging a 21-0 hole. The Jackets' option offense had kept the ball out of the hands of Carolina's offense for most of the game, and when the offense did get the ball, self-inflicted wounds had stalled out any offensive momentum. UNC looked drained and dejected as the offense took the field for only their third possession of the game with about four and a half minutes remaining in the second quarter. It looked like it was going to be the same old story for Carolina, given their historic troubles with Georgia Tech in general and in Atlanta in particular.
And then the script flipped.
Carolina scored on a nine-play, 75-yard drive to get on the board with a minute and a half to play. Then after a bizarre possession where Tech helped the Tar Heels with two incomplete passes, a bad snap on a punt gave UNC a short field and Carolina cashed in with another touchdown before halftime. Carolina had risen from the dead in a matter of four minutes and after falling behind 21-0 outscored Tech 38-10 by solving the riddle of the Jacket option and getting a nearly 20-year monkey off their backs.
Herewith is this week's celebratory GBU Report:
Marquise Williams: How's this for a stat: the senior quarterback led the Tar Heels in passing, rushing, and receiving. In the same game. Williams ran for 148 yards and two scores, passed for 134 more, and caught a razzle-dazzle pass from Quinshad Davis for a 37-yard touchdown. I guess everyone could take Larry Fedora at his word that Williams was and is the starter. Great bounce-back performance after being benched against Delaware.
Cayson Collins: The sophomore linebacker has had an up and down season but made the most of his first start and came up big against the Jackets with 10 tackles, two for loss, and one that was the hit of the day in a key 3rd down stop.
Quinshad Davis: The senior record-holding receiver is an amazing 4 for 4 passing for 4 touchdowns in his UNC career. He also caught three passes for 36 yards.
Defensive adjustments: For the first three possessions, Georgia Tech was gashing Carolina left and right and the Tar Heels played the part of the butter to the Jackets' warm knife. Tech's three scoring drives were for a combined 37 plays and ground out over 200 yards rushing. But after halftime, UNC made adjustments, held Tech to a single long drive (with a huge goal-line stand to keep the Jackets out of the end zone) and only 51 rushing yards.
Red zone offense: The red zone had turned into the Dread Zone for UNC's offense this season, but the Heels were 4-4 on Saturday, including three touchdowns.
4th down defense: UNC held Georgia Tech to a respectable 5 for 13 on 3rd down, but gave up 3 of 5 4th down conversions and only forced the Jackets to punt once. Although, to be fair, one of the 4th down conversions was a little suspect:
@tarheelblog pic.twitter.com/NECnN47Le8— Jason Knott (@jasonmknott) October 3, 2015
And yes the Heels had a monster stop on 4th and goal from the 1 that changed the game, but overall allowing Tech to stay on the field three times on 4th down was not great.
Kicking game: Apparently the trade-off for having some semblance of a place-kicking game is that now punting is an adventure. Hunter Lent struggled with his kicking as his longest of the day was 32 yards and he had a punt tipped. And Nick Weiler missed a field goal that would have salted the game away, although to be fair it was a 48-yarder that wasn't missed badly. Still UNC's punting woes may come back to hurt the Heels when they can't flip the field.
With that, UNC secures its first win at Georgia Tech since 1997, but to be sure there was some good fortune involved, particularly on the part of the hosts. The Jackets turned the ball over, and dropped a number of balls, including what would have been a likely pick-six by Williams when UNC was on the doorstep. And that has been the difference between Carolina now and the group that opened the season against SCAR. In that game, the Heels had three turnovers in the red zone; against Tech UNC was 4-4 with three touchdowns.
With the 800-lb. gorilla removed from its back, UNC heads into the bye week 4-1 overall and 1-0 in the ACC for the first time in forever. With the next two games against the divisional cellar dwellers Wake Forest and Virginia, Carolina has a chance to make some real noise in the Coastal division. And that's a refreshing change.