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

KirVonte Benson

KirVonte Benson

Georgia Tech’s win over Pittsburgh was hardly a thing of beauty. The Yellow Jackets were obviously the superior team, but they let the Panthers hang around for far too long. In the end, though, Georgia Tech came away with a convincing win, claiming victory in its ACC opener while moving to 2-1 on the season.

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets QB TaQuon Marshall

North Carolina wishes it could have had a sloppy win. Instead, the Tar Heels stumbled to another loss, this one a 27–17 setback to hated Duke. At 0-2 in the league, and 1-3 on the year with several tough games looming, things are dangerously close to spiraling downward for Carolina.

This week, UNC heads to Bobby Dodd Stadium, where the Heels have dropped seven of their last eight games. The Heels have won the last three meetings between the two programs, including a 38-31 victory in Atlanta in 2015.

North Carolina at Georgia Tech

When: Saturday, Sept. 30 at 12 p.m. ET

TV Channel: ESPN2

Spread: Georgia Tech -9.5

Three Things to Watch

1. Slowing down the option

This is always the main focus when playing Georgia Tech. When fullback Dedrick Mills was dismissed from the program in the offseason, some wondered how it would affect the Jackets ground game. So far, so good, as Georgia Tech is currently No. 1 in the nation in rushing offense at 394 yards per game. Interestingly, in its two games against Power 5 opponents, Georgia Tech is averaging an amazing 486 yards rushing. Quarterback TaQuon Marshall leads the way, but KirVonte Benson busted out for 196 yards and two touchdowns against Pitt. Once again, North Carolina’s run defense is less than sensational, and the Tar Heels will have a lot to deal with on Saturday.

2. Does North Carolina have enough healthy bodies?

It started in camp with a rash of injuries to the offensive line, and the problems have not slowed down since the Tar Heels' season began. Three starters, including star linebacker Andre Smith, were lost for the season in the Louisville game. Then this past Saturday, leading receiver Austin Proehl injured his shoulder, hampering an already depleted pass-catching group. Quarterback Chazz Surratt has shown great potential, but will there be anyone available to help him?

3. Georgia Tech fumbles

Going into the Pittsburgh game, Georgia Tech had been fortunate to recover four of its six fumbles. The Yellow Jackets’ luck ran out against Pittsburgh. They dropped the ball five times, and the Panthers hopped on four of them. Their 11 fumbles rank 128th in the nation, and the fact that they’ve played only three games makes that stat even more staggering. Though KirVonte Benson was the star of the game, his fumble inside the Pittsburgh 5-yard line midway through the fourth quarter kept the Panthers' hopes alive. A late fumble cost Georgia Tech against Tennessee as well, and head coach Paul Johnson doesn’t want this to become a pattern.

Final Analysis

North Carolina has a lot of problems. The injuries have crippled both the talent level and the depth. On top of it all, the Tar Heels have lost three of four and are trending in the wrong direction. Going to Georgia Tech this week won’t help. Despite the win over Pittsburgh, you know that Paul Johnson was not happy with the turnovers. Ball security will be drilled into the heads of every Georgia Tech skill position player this week. Considering the state of the Carolina program at this moment, turnovers are the only way the Heels stay in this game. Georgia Tech holds onto the ball and runs wild, pulling away from UNC in the second half for an easy victory.

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Prediction: Georgia Tech 42, North Carolina 21

— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.