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Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets vs. North Carolina Tar Heels Preview and Prediction

Justin Thomas

Justin Thomas

North Carolina needs a little help, but the ACC Coastal Division title is still within its grasp.

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Currently tied in the division lead with Virginia Tech at one loss apiece, the Tar Heels need the Hokies to lose another game to pull in the lead position for a trip to Orlando, as the Heels dropped the head-to-head matchup with the boys from Blacksburg.

Related: North Carolina or Virginia Tech - Which Team Wins the ACC Coastal?

So whatever happens, the Tar Heels (6-2, 4-1 in the ACC) cannot afford to lose another game, or they would essentially be two games back in their quest to repeat as division champs.

In their way this week is a Georgia Tech (5-3, 2-3 in the ACC) team coming off a 38-35 barnburner of a win over Duke.

Over the last two seasons, UNC has beaten Georgia Tech, and coming off a bye week, the Tar Heels should be ready to defend head coach Paul Johnson's vaunted option attack, even though that didn't help the previous two times that happened, both Georgia Tech wins.

North Carolina head coach Larry Fedora's squad has been playing better defense of late, and if that continues, the Heels should have a good shot of keeping pace with the Hokies. But with the way the Georgia Tech option operated last week, the Heels will have their hands full.

While Georgia Tech can play the spoiler here, the Yellow Jackets have their own goals to attend to, like making it back to a bowl after winning just three games a year ago. Putting UNC's division title hopes at high risk with a win would just be a nice bonus along the way.

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Georgia Tech at North Carolina

Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 5 at 12:30 p.m. ET

TV Channel: ACC Network

Spread: North Carolina -10

Three Things to Watch

1. All lined up
The North Carolina defense has performed much better lately than it did at the beginning of the season when it gave up 30 or more points in four of the first six games. But against Miami and Virginia, respectively, the Heels allowed just 13 and 14 points, the lowest totals of the season for the unit. The reason? The defensive line has started to come together. Six-foot-5, 295-pound defensive tackle Nazir Jones and 6-3, 230-pound defensive end Malik Carney are just two of the players who have made a huge impact on a line that has steadily progressed over the past month. If the entire group can continue to plug gaps and disrupt the Georgia Tech offensive line, a strong showing against the Yellow Jackets' option attack could be in store.

2. Trubisky time
Although he didn't start last season, UNC quarterback Mitch Trubisky is starting to make a name for himself as one of the top pro prospects for draft-eligible players at the position. The redshirt junior from Mentor, Ohio, has completed 203-of-285 passes, an eye-popping 71.2 completion rate, for 2,378 yards, 18 touchdowns and just two interceptions. That type of production has caught the eye of ESPN evaluator Mel Kiper Jr., who has Trubisky ranked as his No. 1 quarterback on his NFL draft board. That's high praise, especially considering Trubisky was barely on anyone's radar at this time last year. His continued development is something to watch going forward.

3. No doubting Thomas

That's not to say Trubisky is the only quarterback worth keeping an eye on for this game, as Georgia Tech signal-caller Justin Thomas is coming off one of his best performances of the season. The senior stalwart has been one of Johnson's best at the position, but last week against Duke he outdid himself. The quarterback completed 10-of-14 passes for 264 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for another 195 yards and two more touchdowns on just 17 carries. For his efforts, Thomas earned Walter Camp National Player of the Week recognition. If the North Carolina defense allows anything close to an encore, the Tar Heels are in big trouble.

Final Analysis

This game will be worth the watch just for the quarterback play alone, as the two, in their own unique way, can each dominate a game. North Carolina should be able to put up some points, and this game will likely come down to how well the Tar Heels contain Justin Thomas and Georgia Tech’s option attack. They should be able to do that just enough to come out on top and keep their repeat division title hopes alive.

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Prediction: North Carolina 35, Georgia Tech 24

— Written by Adam Kurkjian, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and is a reporter for the Boston Herald. He has covered the World Series, Super Bowl, Stanley Cup playoffs, Boston Marathon and Little League World Series, among other events from the high school, college and pro ranks. Follow him on Twitter @AdamKurkjian.