ACC foes will clash on Saturday evening when the No. 21 North Carolina Tar Heels take on the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. North Carolina is off to a 2-1 (1-1 ACC) start after winning a 59-39 shootout against the Virginia Cavaliers last weekend to cash in as a 7.5-point home favorite. Georgia Tech turned in a good effort in a 14-8 loss to the No. 9 Clemson Tigers as a 27.5-point road underdog, and is now 1-2 (0-1 ACC) on the season.
These teams most recently met in 2019, when North Carolina rolled to a 38-22 win in Atlanta. Georgia Tech still leads the all-time series 30-21-3 despite losing four of the last five matchups.
North Carolina's offense piles up nearly 700 yards in winThe highly-touted North Carolina offense got off to a disappointing start this season in a loss to the Virginia Tech Hokies, but has since recovered by scoring 59 points in back-to-back games, including in a victory over Virginia last weekend to get in the ACC win column. Sam Howell hit Josh Downs on two long touchdown passes in the first eight minutes of the game in addition to another 75-yard score Khafre Brown before the end of the first quarter, and while Virginia would cut the lead to 28-24 at half, two more touchdown passes from Howell and two scoring runs by Ty Chandler after the break ensured the win.
Sam Howell: 8 PASS TDs off play action— PFF College (@PFF_College) September 21, 2021
Most among Power 5 QBs 🎯pic.twitter.com/r0cV9Gk4y4
Howell finished 14 of 21 passing for 307 yards, five touchdowns and one interception. Chandler chewed up 198 yards on the ground on just 20 carries while scoring twice, while Downs enjoyed a monster game with eight catches for 203 yards and two touchdowns. The Tar Heels defense certainly has some things to work on after allowing 577 yards to Virginia, but it didn't matter with the offense piling up 699 yards itself.
“Just from the game plan we had, I knew we were going to have some opportunities to kind of isolate Josh [Downs] on the safety,” Howell said to the Associated Press. “And every chance we had to do that, we connected on it.”
The Tar Heels are also off to a 2-1 start against the spread, as they have since bounced back after losing outright at Virginia Tech in the opener as a slight favorite. Overs are also 2-1 for North Carolina after it nearly covered the total in each of the last two games by itself.
North Carolina is starting to put up the type of numbers most expected with an average of 42.7 points and 553.3 yards per game to rank in the top 20 nationally despite the tough showing in the opener. The defense has been solid enough thus far, allowing 24.3 points and 380.3 yards per game, although it was shredded through the air by Virginia.
Howell has slipped from his preseason Heisman favorite status but has still completed 50 of 83 pass attempts for 867 yards, nine touchdowns and four interceptions while carrying the ball 39 times for 251 yards and two scores. Chandler has been efficient on the ground with 45 carries for 322 yards and three touchdowns. Ja'qurious Conley is off to a strong start defensively with 17 tackles including two for loss, two interceptions and a fumble recovery.
Senior wide receiver Beau Corrales is the big name on the North Carolina injury report as he remains out indefinitely with a lower body injury. Running backs D.J. Jones and British Brooks are also questionable for undisclosed reasons after both got some playing time earlier in the season. Rotation linebacker Tyrone Hopper left the season opener with an undisclosed injury and remains out, while defensive back Ladaeson Hollins is out for the year.
Georgia Tech's upset bid falls shortAfter an ugly start to year three of the Geoff Collins era with a loss to the Northern Illinois Huskies, Georgia Tech looked destined to be one of the worst teams in the ACC in 2021, but has some hope of a turnaround after pushing Clemson to the limit last weekend. Despite the Yellow Jackets only scoring on two Brent Cimagli field goals in the first 59 minutes of the game, they were driving with a chance to tie the score late only to be denied on the goal line, and couldn't do anything in the final seven seconds after Clemson gifted them a chance with a safety.
CLEMSON STOPS GEORGIA TECH IN THE RED ZONE ON 4TH DOWN 😤 pic.twitter.com/r7SWyjW9Rq— ESPN (@espn) September 19, 2021
Jordan Yates completed 20 of 34 pass attempts for 203 yards, with Kyric McGowan reeling in four catches for 82 yards to help the offense on a night where the Yellow Jackets couldn't run the ball whatsoever. Tariq Carpenter led the strong defensive effort with 13 tackles. Georgia Tech actually outgained Clemson 298-284, but 10 penalties and going just 3-14 on third down hurt.
“So proud of that locker room,” Collins said to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Obviously, the goal was to come here and win. But they battled from the final snap to the very final whistle. That team that played (Saturday), they can play with anybody.”
The Yellow Jackets are now 2-1 against the spread despite losing outright as a 19-point favorite to Northern Illinois in the season opener. Overs are off to a 1-2 start for Georgia Tech as last Saturday's game didn't get anywhere close to clearing the total of 52.5 points.
Georgia Tech still needs to get the offense going with an average of 24.7 points and 383.5 yards per game so far, as its only good performance came against FCS Kennesaw State. The defense at least looks great, with opponents only managing 17.7 points and 287.5 yards per game thus far.
Yates, filling in for injured starter Jeff Sims, is 49/74 for 592 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions while adding 51 yards and a score on the ground. Jahmyr Gibbs is Georgia Tech's leading rusher with 40 carries for 185 yards, with McGowan reeling in 11 catches for 195 yards and three touchdowns. Charlie Thomas leads the defense with 24 tackles including two for loss and two interceptions in the early going.
It remains uncertain what the quarterback situation will be for Saturday, as Sims is on track to return from an arm injury and will likely at least play some. Wide receiver Leo Blackburn is the only other player on the Georgia Tech injury report, as he is out for the season with a knee problem.
- North Carolina is 4-1 ATS in its last five September games.
- The favorite is 4-0 ATS in the last four meetings between North Carolina and Georgia Tech.
Trends via Covers.com. Georgia Tech is:
- 9-19 ATS in its last 28 games overall.
- 3-7 ATS in its last 10 games against a team with a winning record.
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The ugly performance at Virginia Tech to open the season is looking more like an aberration for North Carolina, as its ultra-talented offense has gotten going in the two games since behind Howell. While Georgia Tech showed it will play hard enough to compete, keeping up with the explosive Tar Heels means scoring a lot of points, and the Yellow Jackets just don't have the talent offensively to do that.
Neither quarterback option looks particularly good for the Yellow Jackets, and will getting shut down by Clemson is understandable, the fact that they only put up 6.00 yards per pass attempt against a very bad Northern Illinois team in the opener is a red flag. North Carolina certainly isn't known for its defense, but a secondary led by Trey Morrison is capable enough to shut down a limited Yellow Jackets passing attack, and top corner Storm Duck was at least able to return from injury on a limited snap count last weekend.
Howell's problems in the opener could have just been a matter of not having enough time with a completely new group of receivers and running backs, and the fact that he is starting to form a prolific downfield connection with Downs is bad news for the rest of the ACC. Georgia Tech will stick around for around a half, but just doesn't have the firepower to keep pace for 60 minutes against one of the most explosive offenses in college football.
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North Carolina is certainly going to get in a lot of shootouts this season, but it is facing a much tougher defense this week than in the previous two where it put 59 points in both. Georgia Tech's performance against Clemson was still impressive even if the Tigers aren't at their usual level this year, and the Yellow Jackets are allowing a strong 4.6 yards per play for the season.
The Tar Heels have quietly allowed just 5.3 yards per play on the year, and while they got torched by an excellent quarterback in Virginia's Brennan Armstrong, that won't happen again as the Yellow Jackets don't have that kind of aerial attack. Expect a run-heavy game plan for Georgia Tech that tries to keep the ball away from Howell, and the Yellow Jackets defense will play hard enough to ensure the under on the other side.