Carolina was essentially one play away from beating a Clemson Tigers team that won the national championship last year and was ranked first in the country at the time. The outcome was simultaneously heartbreaking and encouraging. Given the prestige of the Tar Heels’ first five opponents, most fans would’ve been happy to be 2-3 coming into the season. Those three losses have come by a combined ten points, though, so it’s fair to wonder what could’ve been.
This Saturday, the Heels will travel to Atlanta to take on a struggling Georgia Tech team. Here are three things to watch in that one.
Surratt has been one of the best stories of the season so far. It’s only been a few months since he made the switch from quarterback to linebacker and he has thrived in his new role. Against Clemson, Surratt led the team in tackles with seven, he recorded the team’s lone sack of the game, he got an additional tackle for loss, and he notched two pass break-ups. But even beyond the statistics, Surratt was easily the most eye-catching defender for the Heels. He was all over the field and played a major role in disrupting Clemson’s offense, which had its lowest total offense (331 yards) since 2017 vs. Alabama.
The first couple games of the season, Surratt was solid but still had miscues here and there that reminded you he was playing out of position. It seems that he’s now really starting to settle into this role and has a firm grasp of what Jay Bateman wants out of him. Surratt will seek to continue that momentum in what has the potential to be a big defensive day against the Yellow Jackets.
No More Triple Option
Perhaps no team was more excited to see the demise of Georgia Tech’s triple option than the Tar Heels. Under Larry Fedora, Carolina repeatedly struggled to halt GT’s rushing attack. Though he managed a 3-4 record, Fedora’s teams never once won the time of possession battle. Watching the Yellow Jackets march the ball downfield, four or five yards at a time, had become tired for Heels fans.
The current Georgia Tech offense has struggled mightily in just about every regard. They’ve scored more than 14 points just once in four games, and that came in a 27-24 loss to The Citadel. As a team, they’re averaging just 4.0 yards per carry and have only notched 505 passing yards for the entire season. Pair Tech’s offensive woes with a Jay Bateman defensive scheme that’s already a vast improvement over basically anything the Heels had during the Fedora era, and this matchup should be much less frustrating than it normally had been for Carolina fans.
Can the Tar Heels win big?
As mentioned earlier, Carolina’s three losses were decided by a total of ten points. What I didn’t add was that their two wins were decided by a total of seven points. In other words, every game the Heels have played has come down to the final minutes.
Georgia Tech currently sits at 1-3 (0-1), with losses to The Citadel, Temple, and a blowout at the hands of Clemson. They’ve struggled all season long to find an identity, which is why our most recent ACC power rankings slotted them dead last in the conference. The line for the game has the Tar Heels favored by 10.5 points and that’s factoring in the Yellow Jackets being at home. If there were ever a time for the Tar Heels to win going away, it’s this game.