Atlanta, GA – Atlantic Coast Conference play heats up this season showdown of unbeatens.
North Carolina won its first ACC opener in 11 years last weekend against Virginia, grinding out a methodical 28-17 win that featured two crucial Tar Heel takeaways on the final two drives, another efficient game from quarterback Bryn Renner and a rushing attack that amassed 222 yards on the ground. North Carolina is now 3-0 for the third time in four seasons.
That number was nothing compared to what Georgia Tech did running the football last weekend when it throttled Kansas 66-24 at home. The Yellow Jackets ruined any idea of a Jayhawks' upset early and often, rushing for 604 yards and in the end, putting up 768 yards of total offense, both of which stand as new school records. Moreover, the 604 yards rushing also is an ACC record for net yards rushing, and Georgia Tech also shattered the NCAA record for rushing yards per attempt (12.1).
"We were just out there playing one play at a time," said quarterback Tevin Washington following the win. "At the end of the day we looked up and saw we had 700 yards. It was a great feeling."
Georgia Tech leads the all-time series with North Carolina, 25-18-3.
North Carolina's offense has revolved around Renner since opening day, which also marked the first career start for the sophomore. Pinpoint accuracy is becoming quite routine for Renner, who has completed 57-of-70 passes (81.4 percent) this year, and has thrown for five touchdowns. He has shown his youth at times, and that has included four interceptions, but he has a home-run threat in receiver Dwight Jones who can help Renner's development. Jones has 20 catches for 336 yards already, including four touchdowns.
There is no doubt that North Carolina will have to continue to establish the run as the season progresses, and it has a couple good prospects in Giovani Bernard, who has alongside 82.3 yards per game average, has a 6.7 yard per carry average and four touchdowns through three games (including 102 yards on 12 carries against Virginia). Ryan Houston has added 109 yards and three rushing touchdowns.
The UNC defense allowed 460 yards of total offense, including 170 rushing, last weekend against Virginia. North Carolina had entered the game ranked third nationally by allowing just 30 yards rushing in its wins over James Madison and Rutgers to open the season. The bend-but-don't-break mentality came through for the Tar Heel's by the end of the contest with Virginia, which turned the ball over three times to the ball-hawking unit.
"The yards concern you, but you can go (look) on tape and you can correct some of the things that happened to you. The points are what's important," said North Carolina head coach Everett Withers. "If they're not scoring, they can't win. I'm about trying to have one more than they've got."
North Carolina is allowing 307.7 yards of total offense per game.
Georgia Tech gets right to it offensively. The Yellow Jackets have scored on their first offensive play in each of the three games this season, and have punished teams to the tune of 427.7 yards rushing (leads the nation).
The focal point has been Orwin Smith, who leads the teams with 270 yards and four touchdowns on 12 carries. Synjyn Days has added 214 yards on four touchdowns on 38 totes while David Sims has 205 yards and three more scores.
Washington has thrown for 637 yards and seven touchdowns on just 28 attempts.
"When we get our blocks, it's like playing a video game," said A-back Embry Peeples following the win over Kansas. "Scores after scores after scores."
The Yellow Jackets' defense may not be capturing headlines like the offense, but the modest numbers don't lie through three games. Georgia Tech has allowed 66 points and 335 yards per game in total offense. The unit has posted five sacks and six turnovers, with linebacker Julian Burnett leading the way. Burnett has registered 29 tackles, including three for loss; overall the unit has 13 tackles for loss. Georgia Tech is only giving up 201 yards passing a game, but will be challenged by a more skilled Renner this weekend, who has yet to show that he is rattled or erratic through three games.
This is a quality early season matchup. Georgia Tech has an opportunity to go 4-0 for the first time since 1990, and its offensive line will dictate whether it gets there or not against a talented North Carolina run defense that is out to prove itself again after being gashed by Virginia last weekend.