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Heel Tough Blog: Georgia Tech Preview

If you look up the definition of a trap game, there is a chance that Saturday’s game between the Tar Heels and the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets might be the picture next to it. They are coming off of a big win over a Virginia team that may very well be the second best team in the ACC Coastal right now and will face rival Duke next weekend in Kenan Stadium, meaning that this game against a Georgia Tech team that lost to Northern Illinois to begin the season could be overlooked. The Tar Heels will hope to avoid that trap and continue to take another step towards being back in the national conversation.

Team Breakdowns

Tar Heels

Mack Brown has been really encouraged by what he has seen from his team in the last six quarters of football, especially when it comes to this offense. Quarterback Sam Howell has officially shook off that game against Virginia Tech to start the season and has added the designed running element to his game, which has been a welcome addition to this offense attack. The Tar Heels backfield finally got rolling on Saturday night against Virginia and the hope is that guys like Ty Chandler and Caleb Hood can build off of their breakout performances against the Cavaliers and help carry the most important element of this offense, the run game. The passing game is in good hands with Howell, who has been nearly perfect in the last two games, and Josh Downs, the dynamic sophomore slot receiver who is currently second in the nation in receiving. The team does need someone from the trio of Emery Simmons, Khafre Brown and Antoine Green to step up as that consistent threat on the outside, the one element that this offense still lacks right now. Kamari Morales and Garrett Walston have become solid safety valves for Howell over the last couple of weeks, as well, another welcome surprise for the Tar Heel passing game this season. The offensive line took a big step forward against Virginia and at the least, the unit appears to have some solid depth that they can roll in throughout the rest of the season. The challenge now for this unit will be to find who the best five are and who should be in those rotational roles going forward.

The Tar Heel defense took a bit of a step back as a whole on Saturday against Virginia, but there are some young guys who continue to provide optimism. One of those is sophomore defensive end Kaimon Rucker, who continues to make plays both in pass rush and run defense reps every time he is on the field. Fellow underclassmen Myles Murphy and Jahvaree Ritzie have also shown some really good things early on this season and that combines with a couple of veterans that are off to solid starts, as well. At linebacker, it appears that Cedric Gray has dethrone Eugene Asante as the starter next to Jeremiah Gemmel following a tremendous showing in his first game as a starter against the Cavaliers. That means that while Asante will lose some reps, the Tar Heels will finally be able to rotate with some regularity at the position for the first time since Mack Brown returned to the sidelines. The secondary has to be better with contest balls than they were a week ago, but there is one bright spot with this group. Ja’Qurious Conley continues to impress and might be the Tar Heels best defensive player after three weeks. Guys like Tony Grimes and Kyler McMichael haven’t been bad, but they haven’t been nearly as good as they were a year ago and the hope is that Storm Duck can provide a bit of a boost whenever he can start pushing for that starting job again.

There is some growing optimism around this special teams group for the first time under Brown. The punt return and punt block groups are the one that have taken the most significant steps over the past couple of weeks, highlighted by the 38-yard punt return from Downs against Virginia. Ben Kiernan may not have been needed against Virginia because of the offensive success, but he has been extremely reliable for the team so far this year. The only concerns with this unit are the kicker, Grayson Atkins, although his miss on Saturday was one that probably shouldn’t have been attempted, and kick returner, where there are simply no answers right now.

Georgia Tech

It’s hard to really get a bead on this Georgia Tech team this season. This is a group that came into the season with expectations to take a step forward this season in their third year under Geoff Collins, but that was quickly washed away when they lost to Northern Illinois, one of the worst teams in all of FBS college football a year ago, in the season opener. The Yellow Jackets put up a heck of a fight against Clemson last week, though, having a chance late in the fourth quarter to drive and take the lead. The success of this team will ride heavily with what they can do offensively. Jeff Sims went down in the season opener with a shoulder injury in the season opener, leaving the door open for Jordan Yates who has stepped in and played well enough to keep the starting job for now. He has a trio of running backs that can help him in the backfield led by Jahymr Gibbs and Jordan Mason. Dontae Smith is the explosive option in that backfield who has been limited but has taken advantage of them. At receiver, Northwestern transfer Kyric McGowan and Malachi Carter provide big-play threats on the outside, but there isn’t much more that this receiving unit has been able to provide this season. The offensive line may be the biggest question mark with the Yellow Jackets offensively, as they have struggled to run the ball efficiently and have allowed eleven sacks in the first three games of the season.

Defensively, the numbers for the Yellow Jackets are impressive and this could be an interesting test for this Tar Heels offense that is humming right now. The pass defense is the strength of this unit thanks to a veteran safety tandem Tariq Carpenter and Juanyeh Thomas. The linebacking corps has shown some promise thanks to guys like Ayinde Eley and Charlie Thomas, but has been inconsistent in run defense this season. The defensive line is the weakest unit of this defense, as they have failed to get any sort of pressure up front and haven’t been as sure-handed as they would probably like to be when filling gaps in the run game.

The Yellow Jackets special teams unit is a bit of a disaster. The kick return and punting games are the only real positives about the unit, but even the kick return game has been a bit inconsistent. Placekicker Brent Cimaglia is just 3 of 6 on-field goals so far this season, with all three of his attempts in the season opener either being missed or blocked and his three makes being inside of 31 yards. The punt return unit is averaging negative return yards this season and like the kick return unit, is still searching through a majority of different options to try and find some solutions.

Team Stats

Tar Heels

Off. PPG: 42.7 (T-16th)

Off. PYPG: 307.0 (19th)

Off. RYPG: 246.3 (13th)

Off. TYPG: 553.3 (T-6th)

Off. 3rd Down %: 48.3% (28th)

Def. PPG: 24.3 (T-71st)

Def. PYPG: 270.7 (108th)

Def. RYPG: 110.7 (45th)

Def. TYPG: 381.3 (T-80th)

Def. 3rd Down %: 43.2% (T-93rd)

Sacks: 5.0 (T-83rd)

Interceptions: 3 (T-39th)

Turnover Margin: +1 (T-51st)

Georgia Tech

Off. PPG: 24.7 (T-95th)

Off. PYPG: 205.0 (92nd)

Off. RYPG: 178.3 (53rd)

Off. TYPG: 383.3 (79th)

Off. 3rd Down %: 40.9% (67th)

Def. PPG: 17.7 (38th)

Def. PYPG: 124.3 (6th)

Def. RYPG: 161.3 (85th)

Def. TYPG: 285.7 (25th)

Def. 3rd Down %: 40.5% (T-84th)

Sacks: 3.0 (T-109th)

Interceptions: 2 (T-63rd)

Turnover Margin: +2 (T-35th)

Keys To The Game

Don’t Let This Be a Trap Game

As we started out saying, this could be a close game late if the Tar Heels are not careful. This is a game that the Tar Heels have the talent to win rather easily, but they have to avoid a slow start after a big win in a game that likely won’t have much of an environment in the Mercedes-Benz Dome. Mack Brown talked about this a lot throughout the last few days and hopefully that focus on being ready to go will allow the Tar Heels to race out to an early lead.

Build on the Momentum in the Trenches

The Tar Heels did a lot of good things on Saturday night against Virginia in the trenches and they need to build on that in this game against a Georgia Tech team that is struggling to win on both sides of the ball. It will be interesting to see what the reps along the offensive line look like in this one after guys like Ed Montilus and William Barnes played very well a week ago, but the hope is that regardless of who’s in there, the Tar Heels can win up front and allow this run game and Sam Howell’s arm tear this defense apart. The defensive line still needs to get more consistent in pass-rushing situations, but this is a group that showed some signs in one-on-one matchups last week and the group had a tremendous night in designed run scenarios against the Cavaliers,

Win More 50/50 balls

The Tar Heels definitely had some struggles last week in pass defense, but Mack Brown says one of the main reasons that that happened was that the Tar Heels didn’t win the 50/50 balls. Brown said that there was a multitude of opportunities that the team had on Saturday night to make plays on the football and even pull down a few interceptions. Yates won’t test them the way Armstong did, but these defensive backs need to be able to win some of these one-on-one matchups.

Injury Report

Tar Heels

OUT- Beau Corrales (sports hernia), Dae Dae Hollins (lower body), Tyrone Hopper (undisclosed)

QUEST- British Brooks (undisclosed), D.J. Jones (undisclosed)

PROB- Brian Anderson (lower body), Joshua Ezeudu (undisclosed), Jordan Tucker (undisclosed)

Georgia Tech

OUT- Leo Blackburn (knee), Dylan Deveney (undisclosed), Keion White (undisclosed)

Projected Starting Lineups

Tar Heels Offense

QB# 7 Sam Howell, So.

RB#19 Ty Chandler, Sr.

WR# 0 Emery Simmons, Jr.

WR# 3 Antoine Green, Sr.

WR#11 Josh Downs, So.

TE#84 Garrett Walston, Sr.

LT#72 Asim Richards, Jr.

LG#63 Ed Montilus, Jr.

C#69 Quiron Johnson, Sr.

RG#73 Marcus McKethan, Sr.

RT#76 William Barnes, Jr. Defense

END#25 Kaimon Rucker, So.

NOSE#51 Raymond Vohasek, Jr.

TACKLE# 8 Myles Murphy, So.

OLB#12 Tomon Fox, Sr.

OLB#17 Chris Collins, Jr.

ILB#44 Jeremiah Gemmel, Sr.

ILB#33 Cedric Gray, So.

CB#20 Tony Grimes, So.

FS# 4 Trey Morrison, Jr.

SS# 0 Ja’Qurious Conley, So.

CB#1 Kyler McMichael, Jr.

NB# 2 Don Chapman, Jr. Special Teams

K#17 Grayson Atkins, Sr.

KOS#95 Jonathan Kim, Jr.

P#91 Ben Kiernan, Jr.

LS#61 Drew Little, Jr.

H#91 Ben Kiernan, Jr.

KR# 4 Caleb Hood, Fr. OR #21 Elijah Green, RFr.

PR#11 Josh Downs, So.

Georgia Tech Offense

QB#13 Jordan Yates, RFr.

RB#27 Jordan Mason, Jr. OR # 1 Jahmyr Gibbs, Fr.

WR# 7 Malachi Carter, Jr.

WR#12 Adonicas Sanders, Jr.

WR-SL# 2 Kyric McGowan, Sr.

TE#80 Dylan Leonard, So.

LT#77 Devin Cochran, Sr.

LG#57 Mikey Minihan, Jr.

C#55 Kenny Cooper, Sr.

RG#70 Ryan Johnson, Sr.

RT#54 Jordan Williams, Fr. Defense

DE#15 Jared Ivey, Fr.

DT# 0 Djimon Brooks, Sr.

DT#95 Ja’Quon Griffin, So.

DE#42 Jordan Domineck, So.

ILB#10 Ayinde Eley, Sr.

ILB# 4 Quez Jackson, Jr.

CB# 7 Zamari Walton, So.

SS# 2 Tariq Carpenter, Sr.

FS# 1 Juanyeh Thomas, Jr.

CB# 3 Tre Swilling, Jr.

NB#13 Wesley Walker, RFr. Special Teams

K#42 Brent Cimaglia, Sr.

KOS#88 Gavin Stewart, Fr.

P#43 David Shanahan, Fr.

LS#52 Cade Long, So.

H#47 Austin Kent, Jr.

KR# 1 Jahymr Gibbs, Fr.

PR# 3 Azende Rey, Sr. OR # 8 Nate McCollum, Fr.

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