Paul Johnson's Yellow Jackets come to Chapel Hill on a roll
When Georgia Tech rides into North Carolina this week, it will be carrying some momentum that has been hard to find this season. After starting the year 1-3, the Jackets have won three of their last four — including an impressive victory at Virginia Tech last Thursday night — to bring their record back to .500.
The Tar Heels, on the other hand, continue to suffer difficult loss after difficult loss. After falling in overtime to now-ranked Syracuse, UNC was beaten this past week by another newly ranked team in Virginia. At 1-6, it is now about pride for the Heels as they try to finish the season on some kind of a positive note.
Georgia Tech at North Carolina
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 3 at 12:15 p.m. ET
TV: Raycom Sports
Spread: Georgia Tech -4.5
Three Things to Watch
1. How many passes will Georgia Tech throw?
If things go according to plan for Paul Johnson’s team, not many balls will be put in the air. New starting quarterback Tobias Oliver threw just one pass in Blacksburg, and that fell incomplete, but he ran the ball 40 times in his first career start for 215 yards and three touchdowns. B-back Jordan Mason also reached the end zone three times as the Jackets piled up 465 rushing yards against the Hokies. The game plan versus the Tar Heels will be similar because ...
2. North Carolina still can’t stop the run
Actually, the Tar Heels have improved their run defense this year. In 2017 they gave up 213 rushing yards per game, ranking 113th. This year they have allowed 191 yards per game on the ground, which puts them at No. 100, and that still isn’t very good. Last week, Virginia ran for 208 yards and much of that came from Cavs’ quarterback Bryce Perkins. While Georgia Tech runs a different type of offense, Oliver will again have an opportunity to put up big numbers.
3. Getting Anthony Ratliff-Williams involved
One positive from the Virginia game was that UNC quarterback Nathan Elliott, despite a fumble on a sack in the third quarter, had a decent day, completing 22-of-38 for 271 yards, two scores, and no interceptions. But his best weapon, Anthony Ratliff-Williams, had a pedestrian game with just three catches for 18 yards and little impact in the return game. It certainly has not been the season most expected for the Carolina receiver, and that needs to change if the Heels want to finish strong. Georgia Tech is 68th nationally in pass defense and if Carolina is to win, Ratliff-Williams will have to show up.
One thing about the Tar Heels is that they have not quit. They didn’t quit last year either, playing their best at the end of their 3-9 season, and they have not mailed it in this year despite more trials and troubles. While many believe that Larry Fedora is coaching for his job, he is still getting his guys to play hard. Still, the losses have continued. And another will probably occur this Saturday. Both of Georgia Tech’s ACC wins this year have come on the road, and the victory at Lane Stadium was their most complete effort of the year. Oliver stamped himself as the Jackets’ starting quarterback and with his promotion, Georgia Tech’s confidence showed through last Thursday night. With games remaining against Miami, Virginia, and Georgia, the Jackets need this win just to put them on a bowl eligible course. They’ll get it done, but it won’t be easy.
Prediction: Georgia Tech 28, North Carolina 24
— Written by Jon Kinne, who has been part of the Athlon Contributor Network for three years, covering the ACC and Notre Dame. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.