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UNC vs Georgia Tech: Players to Watch

UNC has an important conference game this weekend against Georgia Tech. Here are the players who could make the biggest impact Saturday.

NCAA Football: North Carolina at Georgia Tech Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

After a week off, UNC football is back and ready to take on the Yellow Jackets of Georgia Tech. Unfortunately they have been slotted the 12:30 kickoff, but fortunately we have football again in Chapel Hill for the first time since the easily forgettable hurricane game against Virginia Tech.

Needless to say, it has been awhile since football has been played in Kenan Stadium. Luckily for UNC they had a whole extra week to prepare for Georgia Tech and their triple option offense. All that being said, who are the players to keep an eye on this coming weekend?

Georgia Tech Player to Watch: Quarterback Justin Thomas

I know, it’s the obvious choice, but who else matters more to Georgia Tech, and determines if they win more than Justin Thomas? Thomas, a senior, is a three-year starter and Georgia Tech’s leading rusher in yards and attempts, as well as the leader in passing yards and attempts. The ball is always in his hands, and he makes every read and decision, thus furthering his importance to the Georgia Tech offense.

On the season Justin Thomas has accumulated 1024 yards, completing 58 of 105 passes for six touchdowns and one interception. Georgia Tech is known most for their triple option attack, which Thomas leads the team with 97 carries for 479 yards and five touchdowns.

Georgia Tech is riding a two game win streak after dropping three straight to Clemson, Miami and Pitt. On top of this, Thomas is coming off a 459 yard, 4 touchdown performance against Duke last week.

UNC’s defense, especially the run defense, has been playing better, especially in the last two games. Against Miami, the Heels held the Hurricanes to 139 yards rushing on 36 carries. The following week they held Virginia to just 110 yards on 39 carries. However, these two teams aren’t statistically rushing juggernauts in the college football. Miami ranks 95th nationally in yards per game at 148.9, while Virginia ranks 122nd nationally at 109.9 yards per game. Georgia Tech and the triple option is a whole other animal, as they are ranked 18th nationally with 247.6 yards per game, while averaging 5.35 yards per carry, and have 22 rushing touchdowns on the season.

Due to these impressive statistics and given UNC’s lack of ability to stop a formidable rushing attack, combined with the fact that every offensive decision is ran through Thomas, makes Justin Thomas the key player to watch this weekend.

North Carolina Player to Watch: Defensive Tackle Nazair Jones

Justin Thomas has perfected the triple option offense over his career at Georgia Tech. The Triple Option essentially forces you into making a choice, contain the B-back going up the middle, or defend the quarterback and A-back on the outside. UNC will need to play extremely disciplined defense in order to win this matchup.

On virtually every play, there are three main options that occur out of the triple option. These include a fullback dive, a quarterback run, or a pitch or option with the running back.

UNC’s front seven will be tested all game long. Every single one of them needs to play disciplined in order for the Tar Heels to escape with a victory. The players must make their reads and react quickly. It is difficult to pick one player to watch as everyone needs to understand and fulfill their role in order to stop the triple option attack. The UNC defense can’t simply go out there trying to make big plays, they just need to focus on doing their job and executing the game plan.

The player to watch this week has to be, in my opinion, Nazair Jones. He has to wreak havoc and blow up the offensive line as much as possible. If the first option (fullback dive) is not available due to the defensive line doing their job, then the triple option offense is forced into choosing between a quarterback run or pitch option with the running back. If you can take away an option, limiting the Georgia Tech offense, then you heighten your chances in stopping the triple option offense.

The key to winning this game is to take away as much as you can of the triple option in order to force the offense into becoming less dynamic. Nazair Jones and the defensive line are the players that can disrupt this offense in order to slow them down.

The linebackers will need to fill their gaps as assigned and the safeties will need to crash down when necessary. However, all of this will start up front by the defensive line. If they can shed blocks and disrupt everything from the get go, then everyone else will just need to play their roles, make tackles, and UNC should be able to contain the triple option of Georgia Tech.

Any number of players on the defensive line could be the player to watch this week, as the entire unit needs to perform well this weekend. Nazair Jones was chosen because he is the captain and leader of that unit. We have all seen him carry that massive chain around all season. The chain represents the fact that the players need to play as a group and link together to form this strong chain. The defensive line goes as Nazair goes, which is why he is the player to watch this weekend.