The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Friday July 23rd

Special Teams Errors Sabotage Tar Heels' Efforts

Georgia Tech knew it was coming.

The Yellow Jackets recognized North Carolina's punt protection weaknesses on film. They expected to block a punt Saturday at Kenan Stadium.

They weren't disappointed.

"It's been there all week," said Tech's Chris Young. "That's what we practiced because the tackle was a little slow coming off the ball.

"He came off, I saw it was open, the first protector picked up Kerry (Watkins) on the outside, and that just brought me free. I hit it, and I saw it bounce into the end zone, and Tony Hollings jumped in front of me and got it."

The touchdown put Georgia Tech in front by 14 points midway through the third quarter. It came just 2:14 after another Yellow Jacket score, made possible by a UNC special teams mistake.

On fourth-and-eighteen from their own 25, the Tar Heels sent in Blake Ferguson to punt the ball away. But when the snap came Ferguson's way, he couldn't get a clean handle on it.

While Ferguson bobbled it, Watkins came around the end to tackle Ferguson on the 12-yard line. The Jackets scored three plays later.

The two touchdowns courtesy of North Carolina special teams were the difference in the 42-28 loss.

Georgia Tech got pressure on UNC's punters all day, just missing opportunities like the two it capitalized on in the third quarter. The Yellow Jackets could taste the block.

"I kind of knew we were going to get one, because I almost blocked one the first time," Hollings said.

The problems for UNC's special teams, which had been strong in its first four games, didn't end at punt protection.

A 15-yard face mask penalty by Dauntae Finger on Marvios Hester's punt return almost cost the Tar Heels three more points. The Jackets got the ball on North Carolina's 33 but couldn't get a first down. Luke Manget's 47-yard field goal attempt sailed wide left.

The story was the same on kickoff returns. UNC put Kevin Knight and Kory Bailey deep, where Sam Aiken and Jamal Jones had been getting the nod most of the season.

Knight dropped two kickoffs in the game, including the opening kickoff. The game's second return resulted in Knight running smack into his blocker, Clay Roberson, and dropping to the ground at the 14-yard line.

Aiken, who went back to receive kickoffs after Bailey left the game with a pulled hamstring in the third quarter, also muffed one, but luckily for him it bounced out of the side of the end zone for a touchback.

UNC coach Carl Torbush was not pleased with the performance.

"I thought our kicking game, which had been pretty good, was not very good," Torbush said. "And our kickoff return team was not very good on top of that."

A dramatic performance by punter John Lafferty was the lone highlight of the afternoon for the Tar Heels' special teams.

Lafferty fell to the ground on a fourth-quarter punt when Watkins flew at his feet. Lafferty quickly got up and hobbled to the sidelines but straightened up when he arrived. His teammates congratulated him for the improvisation.

"He limped over there, and his coach was like, `You all right?'" Young said. "He was like, `Yeah, I'm fine.' Kerry didn't even touch the man. He stopped. That was a good play by that kicker to do that, but we didn't touch him."

With so many problems, UNC has a daunting task ahead to correct them all. But it has two weeks to prepare for N.C. State, and Torbush knows now what Tech knew all last week.

Said Torbush, "We're going to have to go back to the drawing board."

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