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UNC vs. Georgia Tech: X-Factor

Can Carolina finally learn its lesson?

NCAA Football: Boston College at Georgia Tech Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Stepping on your own, uh, nether region against 1-5 Virginia to fall out of the top ten is very on-brand for Carolina football. Tar Heel fans can’t ever celebrate football glory with both hands in the air because they know the other shoe will drop, usually in the most humiliating fashion possible.

People (myself definitely included) dismissed Virginia as a trap game because of how poor they’ve been all season, instead eyeing Georgia Tech in Atlanta as the more likely banana peel. Well, it still could be if UNC doesn’t learn the right lessons.

For the last two seasons, superior Carolina teams have stood eye-to-eye with the Yellow Jackets, and ran home with their tails between their legs. In 2021, Sam Howell and company went into the Mercedes-Benz Stadium as a 14.5-point favorite. They were demolished 45-22 by a team that finished the year 3-9 (2-6 ACC). Last season, Drake Maye and Josh Downs looked to get to 10 wins against Georgia Tech, this time as a 21-point favorite at home. Tech erased a 17-point deficit to win 21-17. That team finished the year 5-7 (4-4 ACC).

This Saturday, Carolina will descend on Bobby Dowd Stadium, where they last won in 2019. Sam Howell was on fire that day, throwing for 376 yards and four touchdowns:

The Heels are 11.5-point favorites, and Georgia Tech once again holds a losing record (3-4 overall, 2-2 ACC). But what has changed?

Mack Brown has said the right things, first by placing the blame for the Virginia loss squarely on his shoulders. Plenty of players had a hand in sinking the good ship Carolina, but Mack owning the loss is the right move to keep player confidence.

“You’ve got to learn from losing.” Truer words were never spoken. If UNC can’t fix what crippled them against Virginia — namely their physicality and tempo, plus our own curious play-calling which abandoned Omarion Hampton while he was killing the Hoos with 112 rushing yards on just 19 carries (5.9 ypc!!!) — then Georgia Tech becomes a problem. If the Tar Heels correct these deficiencies, get Drake Maye and his receivers back in sync, and give Hampton an appropriate amount of carries, Georgia Tech becomes a smoking hole in the ground.

The biggest question on everyone’s mind is: Will Carolina learn its lessons from last week’s loss to Virginia, and the last two losses in a row to Georgia Tech? If not, this weekend could be another miserable night of ACC football.