Let’s be honest for a moment: there’s no such thing as a trap game for Carolina football. Last weekend’s loss to Virginia would’ve been easier to predict had we all not fallen in love with the fact that UNC was playing their best ball since 1997. We could spend more time relitigating that situation, or we can move on to Georgia Tech, who also beat Miami and followed it up with a disappointing loss to Boston College.
Let’s discuss three ways the Heels can keep from going 6-2.
Finding balance in the offense
Earlier this week, Mack Brown and Chip Lindsey took full responsibility for UNC’s uncharacteristically bad offensive performance. Why did they take 100% ownership? 48 passes and 29 runs is why. Despite facing one of the worst run defenses in the country, Lindsey dialed up pass play after pass play in situations that didn’t call for it, and now we’re here discussing his one claim to fame because he refused to do it: running the damn ball.
Luckily for Brown and Lindsey both, the only team worse at defending the run in the ACC than Virginia is Georgia Tech. According to NCAA.com, they currently rank 129th out of 130 teams in stopping the run, giving up an average of 227 yards per game. I said this last week, and I’ll say it again: Omarion Hampton should have a field day against this defense, and anything less than will only make us question if Lindsey really is the guy that should be running UNC’s offense moving forward. Sometimes the game of football isn’t rocket science, and common sense really is the best path to success. Show up with a balanced game plan, make the Yellow Jackets stop Hampton, and things will go much better than last week.
Contain Haynes King
Georgia Tech quarterback Haynes King isn’t someone you would consider an elite quarterback in the ACC, but he’s also someone that isn’t afraid to improvise. So far this season he has completed 59.6% of his passes for 17 touchdowns and nine interceptions, but it’s what he’s been able to do on his feet that’s a bit sneaky. Against Boston College, King ran for 150 yards and a touchdown, which was good enough to increase his rushing yard total for the season to 372. Is the number inflated thanks to one game? Of course, but it’s still something that will have to be accounted for Saturday night.
The good news is that UNC has been a lot better when it comes to dealing with quarterbacks that like to run. The only QB that has had any kind of significant success was Virginia’s Tony Muskett, who finished last week’s game with 66 rushing yards. If the Heels put a spy on King throughout the game and make him throw, something tells me we will see some pretty ugly errors from the Yellow Jackets. Hopefully this is something Gene Chizik is already discussing with his group, but as we saw last week, we can never be too sure anymore. Sorry, still a little bitter.
Stopping the bleeding on special teams
The Tar Heels have had a really bad time dealing with attrition on special teams. All-ACC punter Ben Kiernan suffered a season-ending injury against Syracuse, and since then Mack Brown has been trying to find a kicker who can properly replace him. It doesn’t help that Ryan Coe and Liam Boyd have also been dealing with injuries, so it’s become quite a dire situation for Brown and his staff.
“Thirty-five years, I’ve never seen anything like this,” Brown said. “It’s a new one for me. But it is what it is. They’re not gonna cancel games. We’ve still gotta play.”
The good news is that Noah Burnette has been able to step in as the placekicker — so far he hasn’t missed a single kick out of 11, and also has made all 21 of his extra points. As far as punt kickers go, Tom Maginness averaged 32.6 yards against Virginia, which isn’t ideal. Even worse is the fact that the Heels have struggled in how many yards they’re allowing on both punt and kick returns, so it this group may be one of the more unpleasant things to watch this Saturday in Atlanta. Will they figure out enough to keep Georgia Tech from setting up their offense with really good field position? It’s unclear at the moment, but at this point Drake Maye might have to show off his leg if the Heels lose anymore kickers.