For a while on Saturday, North Carolina’s game against Georgia Tech had the feel of one of their meetings from years ago, back when neither team could stop the other and when both offenses simply ran – or passed – up and down the field amid a parade of touchdowns.
The Tar Heels and Yellow Jackets combined for nearly 700 yards during the first half. After both teams had seven possessions, they each had gained 380 yards. It was, for long stretches, like arcade football, which wasn’t necessarily anything new in this series.
This was new, though: The Tar Heels eventually stopped the Yellow Jackets, all the while UNC continued its onslaught that concluded in its 48-20 victory at Kenan Stadium. The final margin was a departure from recent history.
Each of the past three games between these teams had been decided by eight points or fewer. Another close finish seemed likely until about midway through the third quarter, when UNC kept sprinting, and scoring, after the Yellow Jackets stumbled.
Why UNC won
Because the Tar Heels essentially did whatever they wanted offensively. That’s the simplest way to put it. UNC amassed 636 yards, and averaged 9.1 yards per play. The Tar Heels ran for a season-high 283 yards, with Elijah Hood leading the way with 168, also a season high.
Mitch Trubisky, the junior quarterback, passed for 329 yards and ran for an 18-yard touchdown that gave the Tar Heels a 48-20 lead with about 11½ minutes remaining. Meanwhile, the UNC defense kept Georgia Tech from scoring on three out of its four possessions between the end of the second quarter and start of the fourth. Those stops allowed UNC to pull away.
What it means
UNC has no margin of error in its pursuit of winning the Coastal Division. All the Tar Heels can do is keep winning, and hope that Virginia Tech, which began its game at Duke while UNC was wrapping up its victory, loses.
The Tar Heels are holding up their end, at least. They probably provided their most complete, dominant offensive performance of the season on Saturday. That’s saying something given the success earlier this season – especially in victories against Pittsburgh and Florida State.
Georgia Tech had a chance to cut UNC’s lead to 27-20 moments before halftime, but the Tar Heels’ D.J. Ford blocked Harrison Butker’s field-goal attempt. That was the start of a prolonged stretch of futility for the Georgia Tech offense.
The Yellow Jackets continued to move the ball decently enough, but after their first second-half drive ended with a field goal they failed to score on their next three drives. The Tar Heels, meanwhile, scored touchdowns on their first three possessions of the second half and blew the game open in the process.
283. That’s how many rushing yards UNC gained – the Tar Heels’ most since they finished with 374 yards rushing in a victory at N.C. State last November. As good as the Tar Heels’ offense has been this season it has at times lacked balance that it discovered on Saturday.
Hood looked a lot like his old self – and a lot like the player everyone, including him, expected he’d be this season – while he ran for 168 yards against the Yellow Jackets’ helpless defense. Hood carried just 12 times, which gave him a robust average of 14 yards per run.
For a little more than two quarters UNC and Georgia Tech put on a show reminiscent of their wild games in 2012 and 2014. Then the Yellow Jackets faltered, the UNC defense came up with some stops and the Tar Heels continued to do offensively what they did from the beginning.