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UNC vs. Georgia Tech: X-Factor

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The defense needs to lock in, and Tony Grimes can be the catalyst for Carolina’s postseason dreams coming true.

Georgia State v North Carolina Photo by Peyton Williams/Getty Images

North Carolina opened as a 12-point favorite over Georgia Tech for this Saturday’s game against the Yellow Jackets at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. If Sam Howell and the resurgent rushing attack are even at just 75% strength, that should be enough to cover.

I thought about naming Emory Simmons as this week’s X-Factor again, after he went catchless in the win over Virginia. Josh Downs has been absolutely spectacular so far this season, but his explosion onto the scene will surely force teams to gameplan around him, perhaps with overlapping double-coverage or if they’re extra naughty… some underhanded tactics. In any case, the other UNC receivers need to take up some of the slack, if for no other reason than to spare Downs a pulled hamstring from running in so many long touchdowns.

The offense doesn’t concern me as much as the defense. Last Saturday’s shootout with Virginia pitted Sam Howell against another gunslinger in Brennan Armstrong. The quarterback threw for 554 yards and four touchdowns (to 11 different receivers!) against the Tar Heels, and if it weren’t for Jay Bateman’s defense shutting down the run (to the tune of 24 total rushing yards), that game could have been a lot closer.

In the first half, Armstrong had time to throw, and often did so with empty backfields. UNC’s cornerbacks were left in man-to-man coverage while the rest of the defense sold out to stop the run. The Rude Boyz were all victimized by Armstrong. Most surprising was star “sophomore” Tony Grimes. He gave up seven catches (on 11 targets) for 72 yards and two touchdowns. This was a tough game and a tough result. But if Grimes gets back to his previous form, and Storm Duck gets more and more comfortable returning from injury, Carolina could round into the meat of their ACC schedule with the best two cover corners in the conference.

Georgia Tech really leans into two receivers, Kyric McGowan and Malachi Carter. If the Heels can maintain their offensive mojo, Georgia Tech will have to throw more and more to keep up. Look for Tony Grimes to limit catches, and hopefully grab another interception in a stadium that he could very well be seeing more of in another year. If he bounces back, expect the Heels to win big.