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UNC Football vs. Georgia Tech: Three Things to Watch

Can the Tar Heels secure their first road win of the season?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 18 Virginia at North Carolina Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Between the departure and return of Mack Brown, the North Carolina Tar Heels were 4-16 against Georgia Tech. Brown won in 2019, improving his record to 7-3-1 versus the Yellow Jackets, including 6-1 in the last seven.

Trips to Atlanta are challenging for UNC, and this Saturday in primetime will be no different. The Tar Heels need a win on the road, and they are up against a Ramblin’ Wreck team that is hard to get a grasp on after three games.

With Carolina riding a two-game winning streak, here are three things to watch Saturday night.

Keep the Offense Rolling

Heading into the Virginia game, there were concerns with three starters missing on the offensive line. These absences combined with the poor effort at Virginia Tech and lackluster showing versus Georgia State made the offensive line a key factor in the game.

As it turned out, the offensive line was dominant in helping the offense produce the sixth-most total yards in a single game in school history. The offensive line allowed just one sack and one tackle for loss to go with no holding or ineligible receiver downfield penalties.

Right guard Marcus McKethan led the way for the O-line, earning ACC Co-Offensive Lineman of the Week. He finished the UVA game graded at 87 percent with five knockdown blocks and two pins.

The rest of the offense performed as UNC fans hoped. Receiver Josh Downs ranks third in the NCAA, and first among P5 schools, in receiving yards after 203-yard performance against UVA. Running back Ty Chandler exceeded the expectations set for him in the offseason with a career-high 198 yards on the ground.

Quarterback Sam Howell became only the fourth FBS quarterback ever to record back-to-back games with 300 passing yards and 100 rushing yards.

Georgia Tech held no. 6 Clemson to just 14 points last week, but the Tigers are far from the offensive team it has been in recent years. With an opening week loss to Northern Illinois, it is hard to say this early in the season if GT’s performance last week was of a defense turning the corner or more of an indictment of Clemson’s lack of offensive firepower.

Unless Carolina reverts to opening week form, the offense should be firing on all cylinders. Can the Yellow Jackets and their 3-3-5 defense slow down the Tar Heels Saturday night? Or will UNC keep the offense rolling?

Dominant Run Defense

The porus run defense of teams in the not-so-distant past is no longer the norm for Carolina. Now, the much-hyped defensive line is making its mark.

In 2020, UNC held four opponents to less than 100 yards on the ground. Virginia, however, was not one of those teams. UVA ran for 210 yards in their win last season in Charlottesville. This season in Chapel Hill, the Cavaliers gained just 24 yards on the ground. UNC forced UVA to the air, and their passing attack was not enough to beat Carolina.

Led by Tomari Fox and Ray Vohasek, the coaching staff can now roll Myles Murphy, Jahvaree Ritzie, Kevin Hester, and Jahlil Taylor. The players are fresher, and the front seven becomes much more effective.

Georgia Tech will rely on two running backs, Jahmyr Gibbs and Jordan Mason, who receive about the same amount of carries. A fresh and active defensive line will be important Saturday night, and it will be interesting to see if the dominant run defense returns for another week.

A Win on the Road

Last season, Carolina was 3-2 on the road. However, for the gamblers out there, UNC was 2-3 ATS. The Tar Heels dropped the first three road games ATS. Favored by two touchdowns versus Boston College, UNC snuck by with a four-point win.

The Tar Heels were not ready for primetime against Florida State, and the comeback attempt in Charlottesville fell short.

Only the blowouts at Duke and Miami were road ATS wins for Carolina in 2020. All that to say in the first three road games last season, UNC underperformed. Carolina lost their first road game already, and did so in disappointing fashion.

The Tar Heels won under the lights last week, but they need to do so on the road. The team needs to prove it to themselves that it is just another business trip, no matter the opponent, venue, or kickoff time.

Will UNC notch that much-needed primetime road win Saturday?