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UNC vs Georgia Tech: Three Things to Watch

The Rambling Wreck bring their option to town. Yawn.

North Carolina v Syracuse Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

Ok. The Rambling Wreck come to town on Saturday. Most will roll their eyes, knowing the dreaded triple-option is likely to be a snooze fest. I’d like to remind everyone that UNC has given up 30 or more points in five of their seven games, so hey, maybe this won’t so boring? Besides, who can forget 2012’s 68-50 barnburner!?

All joking aside, here are three things that could decide Saturday’s game.

Georgia Tech’s Passing Game

The topic may seem like a joke, but it’s not. Yes, Georgia Tech has only attempted 86 passes. Yes, they have only completed 40 of those, for a completion rate of 46.5%. That is still 8.2 yards per attempt, which is third best in the ACC and better than Nathan Elliott’s 6.5 ypa.

How is that possible? Simple. The Yellow Jackets are averaging 17.63 yards per reception. As I wrote in a question and answer for GT’s SB Nation site, From the Rumble Seat, Alabama is the only school that ranks nationally in the top-10 of scoring offense and has a better yards per reception average. That’s how explosive Tech’s passing game can be.

Due to injuries to Myles Wolfolk, CJ Cotman, and K.J. Sails the past few weeks, UNC’s secondary is depleted. They have been exposed against UVA, Virginia Tech, and Syracuse. Vulnerable to big, backbreaking plays, Georgia Tech will try to stretch the field with limited, but surgical, precision. Those plays may not result in touchdowns, but Georgia Tech just needs to complete a few of those passes to keep the defense honest and maintain momentum.

Turnover Battle

UNC has reeled in an interception in each of the last four games. Too bad Georgia Tech doesn’t throw that often. They have thrown just as many interceptions as they have touchdown passes, with four of each. Opportunities will be limited to for Patrice Rene and secondary to extend the interception streak.

Instead, the Heels will have to disrupt the option by falling on a few loose balls that are inevitable with the option. The Yellow Jackets have fumbled 23 times (almost 3 times a game!), but have only lost 8 of those. In three of their losses, Georgia Tech had turnover margins of 0, -1, and -2. The defensive line and linebackers have to be ready to pounce on those muffed pitches and handoffs if they want any hope of getting off the field.

Oh. In case you were wondering, UNC hasn’t won the turnover battle all season. They were -4 against California and Miami. They have been neutral/0/dead even in the other 5 games. Which, if you think about it, that kind of mediocrity is impressive.

Time of Possession

Look. We get it. Larry Fedora doesn’t believe in time of possession being a super important stat. There are some studies that suggest he may have a point. Unfortunately, when your team is regularly held to 3-and-outs on drives that last between 45 and 90 seconds, it turns into a super important stat.

Last week against UVA, the Heels had 12 offensive possessions. Six of those possessions lasted less than 90 seconds. Two more were clocked at 93 and 96 seconds. Not surprisingly, the Heels did not score on any of those drives. The Hoos finished with a commanding advantage in possession, holding onto the ball for 18 minutes and 10 seconds longer than UNC.

Georgia Tech will hold onto the ball day if you let them. They currently have an average time of possession of 34:15 through their first 8 games. According to cfbstats.com, that’s the highest average of the Paul Johnson Era, narrowly edging out 2013’s average of 34:06

Surprisingly, UNC is holding steady at 28:20 for their average ToP. That is the highest average of Larry Fedora’s tenure in Chapel Hill. So the coaching staff has tried to make adjustments, and last week was a bit of an anomaly for the season. Oddly enough, in Fedora’s final three years at Southern Mississippi, he never averaged less than 28:51 ToP for a season.

Nonetheless, if UNC can get close to an even split in possession, they’ll have a chance to earn that elusive second victory.