(Sports Network) – The Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets begin defense of their ACC title, as they travel to Chapel Hill this weekend to take on the North Carolina Tar Heels.
Paul Johnson’s Yellow Jackets would like nothing better than to get out to a fast start in league play, but must shake off last week’s stunning 28-25 setback at Kansas. The loss dropped Tech out of the top-25 and leaves the team with questions, considering the Jayhawks’ poor play in their season-opener.
Butch Davis also must rally the troops following a season-opening loss to LSU. The 30-24 setback to the Tigers was particularly disappointing considering that Davis was forced to use a skeleton crew due to numerous suspensions to begin the year.
Georgia Tech holds a 24-18-3 advantage in the all-time series and has won four of the last five meetings, including a 24-7 decision in Atlanta last year.
After two games, the Yellow Jackets are putting up 33.0 ppg. However, the offense is one-dimensional, with 331.5 yards of its total 395.5 coming on the ground. A number of players have the ability to move the chains for Tech, but it is QB Joshua Nesbitt that poses the biggest threat to defenses. Nesbitt is averaging 5.3 yards per carry in the early going and is responsible for five of the team’s eight rushing scores to date. Tailbacks Anthony Allen (6.9 ypc) and Roddy Jones (7.5 ypc, two TDs) provide more than enough depth in the backfield. The real problem for this offense is the lack of a passing game. In years past Tech was able to overcome their run-heavy offense with the threat of a passing game. However, standout WRs like Calvin Johnson and Demaryius Thomas are long gone and there doesn’t seem to be a go-to-guy on the outside any more.
Tech’s defense has already had its ups and downs this season and while the team has been stellar against the pass (136.5 ypg), the run defense (159.5 ypg) has been lacking. The squad has been very active, with eight defenders already in double digits in tackles, led by freshman safety Isaiah Johnson’s 15. Sophomore end Izaan Cross (13 tackles, 2.5 TFLs) and junior linebacker Steven Sylvester (12 tackles, 3.0 TFLs, 2.0 sacks) have made plays as well. This defense will need its veteran leaders to step up in conference play if Tech is to make a real bid at a second straight league title. The likely candidates are senior cornerback Mario Butler (12 tackles) and senior linebacker Brad Jefferson (12 tackles, 1.5 TFLs).
The North Carolina offense was missing its top two tailbacks and its top wide receiver in the opener against LSU, but still managed to put up 436 yards of offense. Quarterback T.J. Yates was outstanding in defeat, completing 28-of-46 passes for 412 yards and three TDs. Although wideout Greg Little was not in uniform, youngster Jheranie Boyd picked up the slack, hauling in six balls, for 221 yards and one score. Tight end Zack Pianalto also had a big game, with eight receptions, for 74 yards. The ground game managed just 11 yards, but the hope is that the return of veteran tailback Shaun Draughn, who was reinstated this week, will improve the ground game.
The North Carolina defense is one of the scariest units in the country, but that was not apparent in the loss to LSU, as the Tigers rumbled for 162 yards on the ground. Of course, UNC’s lack of production on this side of the football had a lot to do with the fact that at least four All-American candidates were missing from the lineup due to suspensions. Although standout LBs Quan Sturdivant and Bruce Carter played in the opener, they are both questionable for this contest (disciplinary reasons). Without the likes of star end Robert Quinn and star tackle Marvin Austin up front last week, North Carolina struggled to end LSU drives early. Quinn is questionable for this week, while Austin is suspended indefinitely. In addition, the absence of players like Kendric Burney, Charles Brown and Deunta Williams further crippled the UNC defense. All three are listed as questionable this weekend.
Both teams figure to be players in the ACC’s Coastal Division this year. Tech is a one-trick pony on offense and while the Yellow Jackets will get their yards, UNC’s passing game will counter. Go with the hometown Tar Heels in this one, with or without their star power on defense.