If anyone would have told me earlier this week that North Carolina would score 50 points in this game against the Yellow Jackets it would have been grounds to fire another defensive coordinator. Add in the fact the Tar Heels had an extra week to prepare for this contest coming off a bye week and the proverbial disaster that holds for this high school offense, and the rout was on. But as Coach Johnson likes to say; let’s go play and see what happens.
After watching Florida State come from behind on the road at Blacksburg to defeat the Hokies 28 to 22 Thursday night on a 39 yard touchdown pass with 40 seconds left to give Virginia Tech 4 conference losses, it meant that Georgia Tech was still in the Coastal Division race. Wow! Not to mention how delightful it was to watch someone else feel the misery of losing the exact same way they beat the Yellow Jackets earlier in the season and I was thinking that maybe the team would feel energized as well. Apparently we would find out a few days later if that Hokie loss had any impact. Motivation can come from many different sources.
Hard to believe that was even possible after losing to MTSU then getting blown out on homecoming against BYU a few weeks later that this squad would still be in the race for the Coastal Division title. This Yellow Jacket team has plenty of talent and has been in every game this season, but losing those 4th quarter leads just hit them extremely hard and they went into a funk for a few games as did the fans that became highly agitated and started to take it out on the players and coaches.
So heading into this game at Chapel Hill with all of their superior five star talent and hurry up offense, coupled with it being homecoming, and all the ingredients were in place for a classic butt whipping. Back to back road games are tough for any football team but this offense has really started to perform well recently and that credit goes to the folks up front in the trenches; AKA; the Goon Squad as they affectionately like to be called.
After effectively running the football against Maryland for 370 yards it appeared that suddenly the light switch turned on for the Goon Squad as they dominated a very good turtle defensive front. But given the fact Maryland was playing somewhat at a disadvantage offensively without a true QB that put a huge strain on their defense and the cynics were still doubtful this team would ever win another game this season against an opponent with a healthy signal caller.
I watched North Carolina lose to Duke several weeks ago in the last minute of that game and was not overly impressed with them, so I was somewhat puzzled as to why they were a ten point favorite in this game? That being said, my impression is that this team has finally decided that they are a pretty good outfit and after all of the adversity from these tough losses this year they took it upon themselves to prove the naysayers wrong. Credit this team and the coaching staff for being able to do that as there are many teams that have just chosen to mail it in for the rest of the season.
Right now after putting up 68 points against North Carolina on the road, the Duke Blue Devils are more than concerned about this game against Georgia Tech than they were a few weeks ago after seeing BYU take the Yellow Jackets to the woodshed. These past two games this offense is energized and the blocking up front and on the edges has become vicious.
Perhaps the increase in the playing of time of Vad Lee is a component of that, if so then you have to give Coach Paul Johnson credit for bringing him along slowly as opposed to the unfortunate situation that gave Tevin Washington his opportunity suddenly and without warning a few years ago on the road against Virginia Tech, much like learning to swim as opposed to being thrown into the deep end of the pool and just trying to survive.
No doubt both Tevin and Vad will continue to play this season and that makes this next stretch of games winnable as to just a few weeks ago. That is a nice situation to be in for a change as opposed to shoving a QB into a game with limited playing experience on the road. Now it’s up to the fans to reward this team and fill up BDS next Saturday and make some noise as opposed to griping and booing.
Defensively we still are missing tackles but came up with a big fumble recovery by Isaiah Johnson in the second quarter with the Tar Heels driving the football all the way to the Yellow Jacket 19 yard line. That was the first of a few big plays by the defense that shifted the momentum when the game was tied at 14 and North Carolina looking to regain the lead. That led to a nice 80 yard drive by the Yellow Jacket offense to go ahead 21 to 14.
Even though North Carolina came back and tied the score at 21, they had to go 94 yards and used eleven plays which is not their game as they generally score very quickly. So the defense was getting them out of their fast paced hurry up rhythm. The GT offense scored another touchdown to go ahead 28 to 21, but to their credit the Tar Heels matched, then grabbed the lead with a two point conversion to go into halftime up 29 to 28.
When Jamal Golden broke that second half kickoff past midfield then picked up Zach Laskey blocking downfield for the last 30 yards and paving the way 100 yards later into the end zone to take the lead, this game was starting to open up as that return just demoralized the crowd and the Tar Heels. Even after the defense missed enough tackles on Gio Bernard’s dump off pass for a touchdown to make a; how not to tackle highlight reel, somehow the way the offense was performing it just seemed that they were going to be able to take it upon themselves to score on every possession if needed in this game to get the win.
So after Robert Godhigh took a pitch around left end for a touchdown to retake the lead at 41 to 36, the next couple of possessions the Tar Heels started to crack. First, DT Izaan Cross made a great play jumping up and batting a Bryn Renner pass into an interception reminiscent of a former Tar Heel Julius Peppers to give GT possession at the North Carolina 22. Although the offense bogged down and had to settle for a field goal attempt, I started to hide my eyes until I saw that this was a different kicker whose number I didn’t recognize. So I forced myself to watch and was pleasantly shocked as it sailed between the uprights from 35 yards out to increase the lead to 44 to 36.
The defense stiffened and on 4th and 10 forced North Carolina to punt from their own 25 yard line. I’m not sure if this was called by Coach Larry Fedora or the punter just had a rugby moment, but as he was moving to the right for a rugby style punt he suddenly morphed into a football player and began to run. After two measly yards he was quickly smacked down by LB Brandon Watts and the Yellow Jackets were in business at the Tar Heel 27. Robert Godhigh took another pitch to the left and went into the end zone untouched for another score to up the lead to 51 to 36. The blocking on that play was outstanding!
After kicking off the Tar Heels had decent field position around the 25 yard line but the Yellow Jackets were off sides. Instead of tacking on the 5 yards Larry Fedora had GT kickoff again. Well this time the Tar Heels were flagged for holding and received a ten yard penalty and began this possession at their 11 yard line. Once again the defense held and on 4th and 8 this time the Tar Heel punter took off his red cape and reverted back to form. Jamal Golden ran it back 18 yards to the Tar Heel 43 setting up the offense once again in great field position.
After moving the ball down to the 32 yard line GT had a 3rd and 14. Then QB Vad Lee had a moment of coming of age by throwing a beautiful strike to Robert Godhigh who went up high as he could and managed to catch the pass in the end zone while being tightly covered by two Tar Heel defenders. Now the lead was increased to 58 to 36 and this was really starting to look good.
North Carolina scored a touchdown toward the end of the third quarter to make it 58 to 43 heading into the final period. Then disaster hit when Vad Lee threw a pass that was picked off and returned 34 yards to narrow the lead to 58 to 50. Would Paul Johnson pull him and insert Tevin? Next series Vad trots out once again to lead the offense. This series the offensive line is just mowing down the Tar Heels play after play and gashing them up the middle for nice yardage by Zach Laskey. After running the ball inside and out 7 plays and 81 yards later the Yellow Jackets scored another touchdown this time with Orwin Smith going in 22 yards untouched to make it 65 to 50 with about ten minutes remaining.
After the defense gives up a couple of first downs we once again see the Tar Heel punter. The final Yellow Jacket drive begins on their own 6 yard line, and 6+ minutes later they kick a field goal from the North Carolina 17 to up their lead to 68 to 50 and that is the final score. The Yellow Jackets ran for 380 yards on the ground against another highly rated rush defense. Tevin and Vad threw for another 208 on 7 of 12 passing and 1 touchdown. Just an outstanding performance!
A win next week against Duke and the Yellow Jackets are Coastal Division Champions at 5 and 3. However, they will then need to have Duke beat Miami the following week in order to play for the ACC Championship as the Hurricanes, who lost to Virginia 41 to 40 on a last second play, still hold the tie breaker over the Yellow Jackets. Go Jackets!