It wouldn’t be Carolina Football unless you had to sweat during the game. While Carolina did something they hadn’t all season, lead wire to wire, there was a period of time where the outcome felt more in doubt than it actually was. Carolina has had to come from behind at some point in every other game this season, so it was a different feeling to get a lead and keep it from beginning to end.
Thus, you’d be forgiven for doubting that Carolina would keep back a very game Georgia Tech team searching for momentum and a conference win this season under their new head coach. However, the score ended up being closer than the actual play on the field, and Carolina goes into their off week at .500. Let’s take a look at who made you cheer and who made you scared during Carolina’s third win of the season.
Michael Carter & Javonte Williams - The running back duo ran roughshod over the Yellow Jacket defense after a slow start. Georgia Tech stacked up the front the first couple of drives in an attempt to slow down the running attack, forcing Carolina into a lot of throws. It created a weird situation where the pass was used to set up the run, but once Sam Howell was able to complete a few, Georgia Tech had to spread out and it gave Carter and Williams all the space they’d need. The pair combined for nearly 300 yards of offense on the ground and air, and showed some real versatility by being targets for Howell in the passing game. Both were able to get multiple runs of 10+ yards, and it allowed Carolina to end with a 97-53 play advantage. That they’ve emerged as an option for Howell just makes the offense more dangerous entering the back half of the schedule.
Sam Howell - When you are mentioned with Mitchell Trubisky and set freshman offensive records, you had a good day. Howell had 376 yards in the air and four touchdowns, but it’s really beyond the stats that made his day a good one. His receivers were not helping him out early on, which we’ll get to, and one of the drops led to his worst interception of the season by far. He quickly shook that off and kept attacking, continuing to show a resiliency that fans haven’t seen out of a Tar Heel quarterback in years. Even better is that he completed passes to eight different receivers, five of whom had over 40 yards total and had at least one play go for 20 yards or more. That the offense is evolving right as they go into the bye week is a scary proposition for Carolina’s remaining opponents.
Defensive Front - With the immense attrition in the secondary, the defensive line and linebackers are having to play an even bigger role in keeping Carolina in games. Week after week, they are up to the challenge. Were they perfect on Saturday? No, and Christian did a great job breaking down where they came up short. That said, Tomon Fox, Jeremiah Gemmel, and Aaron Crawford should have left forwarding addresses in Chapel Hill, as they were living in the Yellow Jacket backfield. Five and a half tackles for loss and two sacks doesn’t even begin to describe just how disruptive they were. Meanwhile, Chazz Surratt once again led the defense in tackles on the day with 12. Their performance was such that for once, Carolina was able to bring in second and third teamers for the final Georgia Tech offensive drives. Their play kept Georgia Tech from cashing in on a slow start for the offense, and they were rewarded by not having to play every snap for once.
Wide Receiver Drops - Ouch. The game should have been 28 or 35-0 going into halftime, as the receiving core dropped some absolute seeds from Howell. Neither Dazz Newsome nor Dyami Brown were immune, as it appeared they were thinking about how to celebrate their score instead of concentrating on catching the ball. Drops were a big concern of this group last year and in the offseason, and it appears the problem is getting worse, not better. The good news is that they made some absolutely wonderful catches as well, including Dyami Brown’s second touchdown gem of the year. That said, these drops need to end as the level of competition Carolina will ratchet back up after the bye, and they can’t afford to keep making these mistakes.
Secondary - This isn’t so much about their level of play as it is about the sheer tragicomedy that has become the injuries that continue to plague this side of the field. Before the game, it was announced that Cam’Ron Kelly was out for the year, and then during the game Trey Morrison left and did not return with an upper body injury. Georgia Tech was able to take advantage of the youth and lack of depth and deliver several chunk plays through the air, including two passing touchdowns, for an offense that had not shown much of anything during the first part of the season. Myles Dorn can only do so much, and for this group the off week cannot come at a better time. Hopefully some extra time off will get a few guys healthy, as well as give the young guys a chance to fully practice and be ready for Virginia Tech in two weeks.
Discipline - This game had “let down” written all over it, a fact that coach Mack Brown let everyone in on last Wednesday when he was not pleased about the level of practice by his team. To some level, it’s expected after what was emotionally needed to play as well as they did against Clemson and staring at an off weekend next week, but Georgia Tech felt like they were in the game for much longer than they should have. Be it the aforementioned dropped passes or the six penalties for 61 yards, two of them being 15 yarders, the team didn’t show the same cohesion they had a week ago. It was a frustrating reminder that as happy as everyone should be to be 3-3, the team is only 10 points away from being 6-0.
Phil Longo and Jay Bateman both had great games calling their respective units on Saturday, as the mistakes seemed to be more of the execution variety than play calls. Both also have shown adaptability, and especially on offense there doesn’t seem to be a contentment to stick with what’s working. As more tape builds on this team, that’ll be important...Ben Kiernan seems to be firmly over whatever issues he had at the start of the year, as his average was lower but that was mostly due to one punt that was in Carolina territory and he was trying to keep the ball out of the end zone...Noah Ruggles went 1-2 on the day but there shouldn’t be a lot of concern as his miss was from one of the far hash marks on a windy day and a chewed up field. His kickoffs didn’t leave much room for returns.